Delay in ratifying UAW-GM deal stirs tensions – USA TODAY
DETROIT — The UAW will delay formal ratification of a four-year labor agreement with General Motors for another week to Nov. 20, stirring tension in some plants between production workers, who approved the deal, and skilled trades workers, who rejected it.
While proposed raises will take effect once the matter is resolved, the extension will delay payment of $8,000 signing bonuses for 52,700 GM workers until after Thanksgiving, according to sources familiar with the contract.
The contract required UAW President Dennis Williams to tell the company if the deal was ratified by the close of business Friday. Because the union has not resolved multiple complaints from its skilled trades members at GM, Williams and Cindy Estrada, vice president of the union’s GM department, asked the company to extend that deadline until the close of business Nov. 20.
The delay raises the possibility that Ford’s 52,900 workers could ratify their agreement first if the majority vote in favor of the deal reached Nov. 6. The first major plant to vote, Michigan Assembly, approved the deal by 81%. Ford voting concludes on Wednesday.
Labor expert Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research, was surprised by the turn of events at GM and agreed it is possible that Ford could wrap up first, depending on how complicated the skilled trades issues are to resolve.
Skilled trades workers — the electricians, pipe fitters, millwrights and die makers who perform maintenance and other tasks beyond the training of production workers — rejected the deal by a 59.5% majority but were outnumbered by production workers, who approved it by 58% to 42%.
The UAW, according to its constitution, was required to conduct meetings to learn why most skilled trades members opposed the agreement, which will provide each with an $8,000 signing bonus and raises over the next four years. Those meetings occurred earlier this week.
The union’s governing body, the International Executive Board, composed of Williams, vice presidents and regional directors, is charged with determining the union’s next step.
In a letter to UAW local presidents and chairmen late Friday, Estrada said the IEB decided that “further discussion with the company was needed to clarify and address these issues.”
It is highly unusual to return to the bargaining table after a majority of UAW members voted to ratify the contract.
“General Motors is working with the UAW to address issues raised by skilled trades workers,” the company said in a statement. “We remain committed to obtaining an agreement that is good for employees and the business.”
Some skilled trades workers interviewed by the Free Press were upset that they were not eligible for a $60,000 retirement incentive that the contract does offer to up to 4,000 production workers.
But a greater number said they opposed the agreement because of what they called inadequate commitment from GM to train enough new apprentices. The company pledged to train 400 new apprentices over the next four years.
Other workers said the company wants to cross-train them so electricians can perform millwright or pipe-fitting tasks. Over the past two contracts GM, Ford and Chrysler have pushed for greater flexibility among their skilled workers.
Management also has been able to assign skilled trades workers to the production line.
One production worker at a GM parts warehouse, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said fellow workers are expressing resentment toward skilled trade workers.
“If we voted no and (skilled) trades voted yes, the union would shove it down our throats. They treat trades like gods,” a production worker was overheard saying, according to the source.
Another comment: “How many unions do we have — one for production and a more important one for trades?”
The split reflects the changing dynamics of UAW politics. Skilled tradesmen once wielded more clout both on the factory floor and in the UAW’s organizational chart.
They make more money — generally in the range of $33 to $36 an hour. On occasion they have also accumulated substantial overtime, especially when installing new tooling to transition to a new model launch.
They also once held substantial influence over their lower-paid coworkers on the line, especially at contract time, but that influence has waned. There are fewer skilled trades people in most plants.