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The UAW’s International Executive Board early Thursday appeared to be on a path to ratifying a tentative agreement with General Motors Co., despite a rejection by skilled trades workers. But that stalled late in the day as the union sought additional clarification from GM over those workers’ concerns.

Following meetings with skilled trades workers across the country, the head of the UAW’s General Motors department early in the day pushed for ratification, according to three sources familiar with the union’s plans.

UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who heads the GM department for the union, held a conference call Thursday morning with UAW-GM local leaders to discuss the review of why skilled trades rejected the contract, according to three people who asked not to be identified because details have not been made public. Those people said Estrada indicated she would recommend that UAW President Dennis Williams and the union’s International Executive Board ratify the agreement, which was approved by a majority of GM’s hourly workers.

Later Thursday, after the International Executive Board met via a call, union officials held a second call with local union leaders that lasted about 11/2 hours, according to two sources familiar with the call. One source who listened to that call said Williams and Estrada told UAW local presidents and shop chairs that they would go back to GM for language clarification over skilled trades concerns before the International Executive Board made a ratification decision.

According to two people who listened to the earlier call, the union over the past few days had secured letters of clarification from GM about some language in the contract.

As of Thursday evening, the union had made no announcement about the deal.

Both skilled trades and production workers must ratify the deal separately for ratification. Each group has parts of the contract tailored to its classifications. The UAW can overrule a rejection by skilled trades workers if the executive board finds they voted against it for reasons that are mostly economic and not unique to skilled trades.

The UAW announced Nov. 6 that 55.4 percent of all GM union members voted “yes” on the pact. But it could not be ratified immediately because 59.5 percent of skilled trades workers voted “no.” Skilled trades people represent about 16 percent of GM’s hourly workforce.

The UAW said that it would hold meetings with skilled trades people at each plant to determine reasons why they had rejected it. “Once that inquiry has concluded,” the union said, “the UAW’s International Executive Board shall meet to determine what appropriate steps shall be taken.” The UAW said then that results of the process with the skilled trades workers cannot change aspects of the agreement which are common to all members.

That review found skilled trades workers had issues pertaining to local contract agreements, as well as problems with the overall agreement such as no buyouts for skilled trades workers and no cost of living increase, according to two sources familiar with the first call. They said there were also skilled trades-specific issues, such as reclassifying trades and the number of apprentices.

A spokesman for the UAW declined to comment Thursday. GM also would not comment.

Job reclassification an issue

Several workers and local union leaders have told The Detroit News that skilled trades workers are concerned about reclassifications that could require them to do multiple jobs; that they may lose seniority or shift preferences; that work may be outsourced; and that no buyout incentives were offered. Others believe not enough apprentices are promised.

Darryl Sutton, a skilled trades worker at GM’s Wentzville Assembly Plant in Missouri, said he voted against the agreement because he wants to see skilled trades jobs preserved. He also has concerns about safety in the plants with contract workers doing tasks when they have not gone through the same apprenticeship program as GM’s skilled trades have. Two-thirds of Wentzville’s skilled trades employees voted against the pact.

“They’re just watering down the skill we have,” said Sutton, 50, who has worked for the carmaker for more than 30 years.

Sutton is not happy to see many skilled trades jobs of the past continue to be outsourced, such as housekeeping and building maintenance: “There’s no opportunity for the GM line worker to get these jobs any longer.”

Johnny Pruitte, president of UAW Local 276 which represents workers at GM’s Arlington Assembly Plant in Texas, said skilled trades workers are concerned about training; are worried GM is trying to end their craft and that it may outsource work; and that the contract lacks early retirement incentives. Eighty-four percent of the 274 skilled trades workers at the plant voted against the contract, as did 51 percent of production workers.

Another big concern among his membership is the lack of apprentices. More than half of GM’s 8,500 skilled trades workers are eligible to retire — and at the Arlington plant, 59 percent of those workers have been on the job 30 years or more and could elect to retire at any point. “They could walk right out the door,” Pruitte, a skilled trades electrician, said in an interview Wednesday. “It would just shut this operation down.”

Deal has $8K signing bonus

The GM-UAW agreement would be effective Monday if GM is notified by Friday that it’s been ratified. An $8,000 signing bonus for all workers and $2,000 for temporary workers with at least 90 days with the company prior to the effective date of the agreement will be paid in the second pay period following ratification.

The deal includes the first hourly wage increase in nearly a decade for veteran workers who will receive two 3 percent wage increases in years one and three of the contract, and two 4 percent lump sum payments in years two and four. It also includes the gradual elimination of the pay gap between veteran workers and newer hires over eight years.

Hourly workers will receive retroactive pay for wage increases dating back to Sept. 15. It was not immediately clear when they would receive it.

The new contract would move entry-level workers to the same health care plan as veteran workers in January; award workers an annual $1,000 performance bonus and an additional $500 bonus if quality targets are met; and offer up to 4,000 eligible employees a $60,000 early-retirement bonus. GM’s deal includes $1.9 billion of investment at 12 U.S. facilities, creating or retaining 3,300 jobs at a dozen plants through 2019.

mburden@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2319

Twitter.com/MBurden_DN

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