GM Labor Pact Held Up as Negotiation Focus on Skilled Trades

  • Union seeks better deal from automaker for group within UAW
  • UAW, company say discussions continue on final terms

United Auto Workers leaders are continuing to talk to General Motors Co. management to get a tentative four-year labor deal ratified.

The agreement hit a snag even though a majority of UAW members voted in favor because the skilled-trades group within the union rejected it. UAW rules require approval from production workers and the trades group while giving override authority to the leadership if there is majority support.

Union President Dennis Williams said in a statement that he has talked to skilled trades representatives and is now in discussions with with GM. In a separate statement, the automaker said it’s “working with the UAW to address issues raised by skilled-trades workers.”

The union and GM have extended the current contract until Nov. 20, which is now the deadline for ratifying the new deal, UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said in a note on the union’s Facebook page about the negotiations.

For GM, the accord would boost labor costs by a minimum of about $2 billion, the bill for a similar agreement union agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The contract is a milestone for the UAW, which has been lowering labor costs for a decade while GM restructured its business.

Over time, GM can offset those costs as older workers retire and replacements start at $17 an hour. It takes eight years for them to work up to the wage earned by veteran factory hands, which will top $29 an hour at the end of this contract.

More than 55 percent of members voted to accept the agreement as 58 percent of the production workers, the larger group, favored it. Almost 60 percent of the skilled-trades workers opposed the deal. They wanted early-retirement payments and work rules that would not force them to do other skilled trades jobs, said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

The union could get GM to give some concessions to address the concerns of skilled-trades workers and then ratify it without another vote, Shaiken said.

The union had secured higher pay and top-level health-care benefits for entry-level production workers, whose maximum wage would rise from $19.25 now. Members of both worker groups will get $8,000 for approving the pact.

The GM proposal was similar to the less-lucrative agreement ratified earlier at Fiat Chrysler. A tentative agreement with Ford, which offers a larger ratification bonus and expedited profit-sharing payout, was announced last week. That deal includes $70,000 early retirement offers for some skilled trades workers and other job-security provisions.

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