Friday, October 24, 2008

Will The Big Three Ask The UAW To Re-Open The 2007 Contract?

More buyouts will not help automakers shed more workers, Gettelfinger says

Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said he didn't think another round of buyouts would help automakers shed more of their hourly work force but he deflected a question on whether the union is considering re-opening the landmark national labor contracts signed last year with the Detroit Big Three automakers.

"I'm not sure the value of a buyout at this point and time," Gettelfinger told reporters this morning at Detroit's Cobo Center, where the labor union president was honored by the Goodfellows charity organization. Gettelfinger reasoned that UAW-protected autoworkers who were in the position to leave their jobs would have taken one of the previous rounds of buyouts and early retirement offers and he didn't see the "effectiveness" of another round.

Gettelfinger acknowledged that he was in discussions with the Big Three automakers as they grapple with the immense impact of the global financing crisis and the worst auto sales market in 15 years, but he declined to provide details.

When asked whether he was discussing the possibility of re-opening last year's labor agreements, Gettelfinger responded: "Next question."

He was far clearer on protecting the independent health care trusts created for retirees.

Under the four-year labor contracts, Detroit's automakers are shifting retiree health care liabilities to the independent health care trusts, known as a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, VEBA. The VEBA trusts are scheduled to begin operating Jan. 1, 2010, with about $30 billion of what ultimately will be nearly $52 billion in automaker contributions. The UAW has said in the past the money will last for 80 years.

"We do not want to open up VEBA," Gettelfinger said.

"That was one of the most difficult and challenging decisions I ever had to make," he said, referring to the fund's creation.

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