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GM pressures union with plan to slash 30,000 jobs
Will UAW fight at Delphi?

By Lee Sustar | December 2, 2005 | Page 11

WILL LEADERS of the United Auto Workers (UAW) simply surrender as General Motors (GM) and parts maker Delphi lead the auto industry in slashing jobs and benefits--or can a fledgling rank-and-file movement change the union's course?

GM's announcement November 21 that it would close 12 plants and eliminate 30,000 jobs in North America--about a third of its production workforce--raises questions over whether the company will meet is obligations to guarantee pensions and provide at least some jobs for workers at bankrupt Delphi, the parts maker that was spun off from GM in 1999.

"GM is slamming the door on Delphi workers" who hoped to transfer to GM and avoid a proposed wage cut from $26 per hour to $10 per hour, said Gregg Shotwell, a member of UAW Local 2151 at the Delphi plant in Coopersville, Mich., and a key organizer of rank-and-file meetings in Michigan and Indiana in November.

Shotwell added that the GM cuts--coming just weeks after the UAW agreed to retiree health care cuts worth $15 billion--"underlines, and puts in bold, the fact that concessions do not save jobs."

The UAW--which has been mostly quiet about Delphi since the company filed for bankruptcy in October--called for a picket at the Coopersville plant November 29 to protest an executive compensation plan that would give Delphi's top executives bonuses and pay worth $500 million when the company emerges from bankruptcy. "The local [union] is telling us to cross the picket line," Shotwell said. "One official told me that [Delphi CEO Robert 'Steve'] Miller gave his permission--that nobody would be disciplined."

The executive pay deal, if approved in bankruptcy court, would make it harder for UAW leaders to sell the concessionary contract that Shotwell and other rank-and-file activists expect. If the UAW doesn't agree to a deal with Delphi by December 16, Miller has said he will ask U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain for permission to simply tear up union contracts. Drain is likely to rule on the matter in late January or early February.

UAW officials, however, have already agreed in principle for lower wages for Delphi workers in the future. "In April 2004, the UAW agreed with Delphi that $14 per hour was a competitive wage" in the auto parts industry as part of a two-tier pay deal negotiated in the 2003 contract, Shotwell said. "Apparently, this wasn't good enough. Miller wants deeper pay cuts and lower benefit levels. But how can the UAW argue anything differently in bankruptcy court now?"

Many Delphi workers have assumed that the 1999 agreement that spun off Delphi from GM would allow them to use seven years of pension credits to retire early as GM employees. But after months of inquiries, Shotwell and other UAW activists have been unable to locate any signed agreement between the UAW and Delphi or GM guaranteeing this arrangement.

"I full expect the UAW International to try to sacrifice Delphi workers to save jobs at GM," Shotwell said. "That isn't speculation, that's the record in the parts industry."

On November 28, the UAW distributed in the Coopersville plant a memo explaining that--based on "current understandings" of the GM benefit guarantee-- Delphi workers would have to continue to work at Delphi for reduced wages in order to even qualify for the GM pension credits. The deal would kick in, according to the memo, only if Delphi terminates its pension plans, ceases servicing them or fails to pay retiree benefits as specified in the previous contract.

The result, Shotwell said, would that current Delphi workers would be "handcuffed to the wage cuts," forced to work for as little as $10 per hour to remain eligible for GM-paid retirement.

What's more, the GM retiree health care cuts--which will force retirees to pay a quarter of their health care costs--are likely the first of many attacks on GM retirees. Similar attacks are set to begin at Ford and DaimlerChrysler, where UAW officials have agreed to open discussions on cuts.

That's why the rank-and-file meetings, which are set to continue in December and January, are so important, Shotwell said. The efforts so far have focused on a work-to-rule campaign to slow production at Delphi and lay the basis for a possible strike. "I am telling people there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, you won't be able to retire," Shotwell said. "We have to fight."

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