UAW official says agreement may be near with GM

AP News
Posted: Sep 16, 2011 3:19 PM
UAW official says agreement may be near with GM

It looks like the United Auto Workers union and General Motors Co. are nearing an agreement on a new contract.

UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, the union's chief negotiator, told workers in an email update Friday that bargainers are getting "very close" to the framework of a deal.

"I am optimistic that the negotiations process is entering its final stage," Ashton wrote. "I truly believe that a settlement is within reach."

But Ashton also cautioned that both sides still need to do more work, saying that agreements of this size undergo many revisions before they are final.

Contract talks between the union and GM, Chrysler Group LLC and Ford Motor Co. began in July and will determine wages and benefits for 112,500 factory workers at all three companies. They will also set the bar for wages at auto parts companies, U.S. factories run by foreign automakers and other manufacturers, which employ hundreds of thousands of people.

The talks are the first since GM and Chrysler needed government aid to make it through bankruptcy protection in 2009.

Workers at all three companies have stayed on the job under terms of a contract that expired Wednesday night. Workers at GM and Chrysler cannot strike over wages under the terms of the companies' 2009 government bailouts. Ford workers can still strike. Each company negotiates with the union separately.

Negotiators from GM and the union bargained until around 9 p.m. Thursday and resumed talks on Friday morning.

"We continue to make progress in negotiations," GM spokeswoman Kim Carpenter said, declining further comment.

The union is seeking bigger profit-sharing checks, guarantees of more jobs, signing bonuses and raises for entry-level workers. Ford and GM want to cut their hourly labor costs, which still are higher than Asian automakers with U.S. factories. Chrysler is trying to hold its costs steady.

Talks with Chrysler and Ford also are continuing, but have slowed as the union concentrates on GM. Any deal with GM would be used as a template for the other two companies, although unlike past years, there will be big differences to match each company's finances.

Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkley who specializes in labor issues, said Ashton's cautionary sentence in the note tells workers that neither side wants to rush and make a mistake.

"He's telling them that there are always tough calls at the end," Shaiken said. "I think there's a real willingness on both sides to settle this sooner rather than later. But what trumps sooner is getting it right."

The union's focus on GM slowed the Chrysler negotiations and drew an angry response earlier in the week from CEO Sergio Marchionne.

In a letter to UAW President Bob King, Marchionne accused King of failing to show up at Chrysler's Auburn Hills, Mich., headquarters to finalize a deal on Wednesday night.

King had spent the day working on GM, which angered Marchionne. The Chrysler CEO said he flew back from Europe to sign a deal as part of an earlier agreement he had with King.

Marchionne said in his letter that he was leaving the U.S. and wouldn't return until next week, so it's unlikely a deal with Chrysler will be finished before then.

Talks with Ford have made little progress while negotiations continue with the other two companies.

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