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November/December, 2005

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With an elephant in the room (Hurricane Delphi), UAW bargains new agreement with GM

by Claire McClinton

Maintaining that the UAW DID NOT open the National Agreement but DID renegotiate side issues, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger recently announced cuts in health care benefits affecting both active and retired GM employees. Before the talks began some weeks ago, Brother Gettelfinger vowed that retirees health care would not be touched.

This position was wholeheartedly embraced, since most of retirees health issues are directly related to the work and work environment in GM factories. This promise was short-lived after the UAW commissioned a study which found that GM "needed" some relief from their health care obligations. Active employees will forego future raises amounting to approximately $1 per hour per worker and rising over time. Retirees will now be required to pay up to $752 per year to receive health care coverage, compared to before when there was no such fees. Both active and retired workers will be charged $10 co-pay for prescription drugs (up from $5). The membership must vote to approve these changes.

Retirees, however, will not be allowed to vote. So far the changes are receiving mixed reviews. Compared to Delphi demands, it could look as though it's not a bad deal. For example, some workers who were ready to vote NO are now saying it's not as bad as they thought it was going to be and they might vote for it. Others are postponing their retirement for fear they may end up losing more benefits in the future. Still others, like some retirees, feel betrayed; when they signed their retirement papers, they had a contract with the company that should not be violated. The UAW is now in federal court to enforce the changes making it virtually impossible for retirees to sue.

Delphi, Chrysler, Ford and God Knows Who Else Stand in Line: ‘Me Too’

Delphi Corporation, which was spun off from GM in 1999, was clearly the elephant in the room as talks took place to reduce health care with GM. Playing hardball, CEO Steve Miller of Delphi has made no secret of the fact that they expect the UAW to copy Delphi salary workers health care package, which was changed earlier this year. The health care package for them is once you reach age 65 and are eligible for Medicare, your health care coverage ends at Delphi. The fact that the UAW has given concessions to GM has only emboldened Delphi. Now before GM workers have even learned all the details of the new changes, CEO Miller has again proposed Draconian changes in union contracts ($10 per hour wages, slashing health care, etc.) affecting UAW as well as IEW members at Delphi plants. Ford and Chrysler and standing in line and can't wait for the provisions to become official for their turn to get in on contract goodies.

General Motors, one of the largest corporations in the world, is now wrestling concessions from active workers and has taken the unprecedented step of revamping retirees benefits. Delphi, the largest auto supplier in the world, has leveraged their pursuit of "competitive" wages and benefits by filing bankruptcy. There are those of us who understand that if these two behemoth corporations can do it, no worker anywhere will go untouched by these smashing of long-standing standard of living and quality of life issues. Robert Wagoner called the agreement with G M "historic." Why?? Because he knows if it passes this is a tactical victory for GM and the class of "HAVES" that they represent. On the other hand, if the agreement passes, it will be a tactical setback for the class of "HAVE NOTS" which we as auto workers are joining everyday.