By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT (Reuters) - United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams said on Thursday he wants to enter talks with the three major U.S. automakers to pool active union and nonunion workers and UAW retirees to bargain for lower healthcare costs.
Such a pool of about 900,000 people connected to Detroit's three automakers would not mean a single healthcare plan, but instead a collective to wield more leverage in negotiations with drug companies, hospitals and insurance companies, he noted.
The union is still forming its strategy on how a larger pool would be created, Williams said at a press conference at the UAW's headquarters in Detroit.
While he did not detail the options the UAW is considering for such a pool, Williams said discussions of such a collective for greater purchasing power will be part of the upcoming labor talks with Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Those talks begin next month for contracts that expire Sept. 14.
"If you pool that, that's a pretty good number," Williams said. "I'd go to the bargaining table with that number. In fact, I am."
About 607,000 retired UAW members would continue to have healthcare managed by the union through a health care trust that is a voluntary employees beneficiary association (VEBA).
The UAW took the yoke of healthcare costs for retired UAW members from the three auto companies in 2007 by creating three separate VEBAs. Williams said the union wants to continue to manage retiree healthcare plans while still creating a collective pool to bargain for lower costs.
He said the union has done a better job at managing healthcare costs for retired workers than the companies did before the VEBAs were formed.
In addition to the 607,000 UAW retirees who would be part of the pool Williams will propose, there are about 140,000 active UAW auto workers and another 150,000 to 160,000 salaried nonunion workers at Ford, GM and FCA, he said.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Richard Chang)