UAW and GM extend contract until Nov. 20

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers has agreed with General Motors Co. to extend its 2011 contract until Nov. 20 as talks continue to iron out skilled trades issues, according to a Friday letter to UAW-GM local union presidents and chairpersons.

The unprecedented move comes a week after voting results were released — and after much wrangling over reasons skilled trades workers rejected the contract.

UAW GM Vice President Cindy Estrada wrote in the letter: “We continue to meet with the company and will keep you updated as we work through the process. I realize this has been a long and difficult process, but it is important we address these important issues raised by the skilled trades. The strength of our union is our process and the solidarity we exercise with our brothers and sisters who work in the trades.”

Estrada said Nov. 20 is the new deadline for ratification of the tentative agreement; it had been Friday.

UAW President Dennis Williams said in a statement Friday that based on the feedback from skilled trades members, “I have determined that further discussion with the company was needed. Such discussions are currently taking place.”

The letter and the UAW’s statement do not give specifics about discussions with the company or what changes could be made or how. A UAW spokesman said he couldn’t comment on specific issues.

“General Motors is working with the UAW to address issues raised by skilled trades workers,” GM said in a statement Friday. “We remain committed to obtaining an agreement that is good for employees and the business.”

The union may be able to win concessions for skilled trades workers, or could clarify language in an addendum to the contract that would not require another vote.

The UAW on Nov. 6 announced that 55.4 percent of GM union members overall voted “yes” on the tentative agreement. But that could not immediately be ratified because 59.5 percent of skilled trades workers — who represent about 16 percent of GM’s 52,600 hourly workers — voted “no.”

Both skilled trades and production workers must ratify the deal separately for ratification. The UAW can overrule a rejection by skilled trades workers if the union’s International Executive Board finds they voted against the deal for reasons that are not unique to skilled trades. The UAW has said the results of its review and continued talks regarding skilled trades worker issues cannot change aspects of the agreement that are common to everyone.

On Thursday, the UAW’s International Executive Board appeared to be on a path to ratifying the agreement with GM, following meetings with skilled trades workers on why they voted “no.” But the effort stalled later in the day when the union sought additional clarification from GM over skilled trades workers’ concerns on contract language.

The review found workers had issues pertaining to local contract agreements. Workers also voiced skilled trades-specific issues such as reclassification of trades, numbers of apprentices and the absence of cost of living increases and buyouts.

Skilled trades workers also have told The Detroit News that they are concerned re-classifications could require them to do multiple jobs, “watering down” their trades and they may lose seniority or shift preferences .

Many skilled trades workers had fully expected the union to ratify the agreement despite their rejection. John Ilgenfritz, a skilled trades worker at GM’s Wentzville Assembly Plant in Missouri, said he voted against the deal because GM wants to combine classifications of some skilled trades workers.

Ilgenfritz, 55, who specializes in tractor repair, said he doesn’t want to see skilled trades become “jack of all trades.” He also doesn’t want GM to outsource more work, because people brought in don’t have the same apprenticeships and training as GM workers have had.

“One of the biggest aspects is safety...,” he said. “Someone is going to get hurt and it’s going to be because of this.”

The International Executive Board met Thursday, according to Estrada’s Friday letter. “As a result of the IEB meeting, it has been determined, with my recommendation, that further discussion with the company was needed to clarify and address these issues,” she wrote.

Sources told The Detroit News that in a call with UAW-GM local leaders early Thursday, Estrada indicated she would recommend the union’s International Executive Board ratify the agreement, but would seek clarity on skilled trades issues. 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; during that call the union indicated they would go back to GM for clarification on some concerns.

In 2011, 55.6 percent of skilled trades workers for Chrysler Group LLC (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US) voted against a tentative agreement, but a majority of workers overall voted in favor. In 1973, the final vote on a national contract at Ford Motor Co. also resulted in a split between trade workers and production workers.

In both cases, the union’s International Executive Board decided to affirm ratification of the contracts.

GM’s deal with the union promises 1,300 new skilled trades placements, including at least 400 new apprentices. It promises retraining for skilled trades currently working in production; GM has said the first 200 apprentices would come in 2016. More than half of GM’s 8,500 skilled trades workers are eligible to retire, but skilled trades workers are not eligible for a $60,000 early retirement incentive that GM will offer up to 4,000 eligible employees as part of the contract.

The tentative agreement, reached Oct. 25, includes 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 after 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.

The new contract would move entry-level workers to the same health care plan as veteran workers in January and award workers an annual $1,000 performance bonus and an additional $500 bonus if quality targets are met. GM’s also plans to invest $1.9 billion at 12 U.S. facilities through 2019, creating or retaining 3,300 jobs.

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