By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT (Reuters) - An attempt to strengthen the United Auto Workers union's stand against a two-tiered wage structure at the Detroit Three automakers failed on Tuesday, but the debate over the pay gap between newly hired auto workers and veterans is not over.
UAW leaders are meeting in downtown Detroit this week to map out bargaining strategy for this summer's contract talks with General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. About 800 UAW members are debating points in a 72-page outline of the union's main goals in the talks.
The top tier of veteran workers make over $28 an hour, while new workers start at $15.78 an hour and peak after four years at $19.28 per hour.
Currently, the UAW leadership's draft resolution calls for "bridging the gap" between the two tiers.
But a group of delegates to the bargaining convention said the union's official goal should be elimination of the pay gap.
"The issue of equal work for equal pay and ending the two-tier wage and benefit relationship is something that we the delegates want to make abundantly clear coming out of this convention," said Bill Parker, a delegate to the convention and former president of the UAW Local 1700 that represents workers at the FCA plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
A show of hands, however, indicated that the proposal did not get the 94 votes needed to continue discussion.
The proposed UAW resolution says: "We must rethink entry-level (second-tier) compensation and overall wage and benefit structures so that everyone is on track to earn good wages and benefits that will sustain a middle class standard of living."
It also says, "We seek to bridge the gap in two-tier pay structures by raising wages for lower-paid workers and creating pathways to full pay levels."
UAW leaders, including President Dennis Williams, have said they want to eliminate the lower wage tier, but it may take more than one cycle of bargaining to achieve the goal.
UAW leaders could get another shot at the issue on Wednesday when a vote is expected on another proposal to change the wording of the resolution to "eliminating" the gap rather than "bridging" it.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Dan Grebler)