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UAW Says It Will Try To Preserve GM Workers ' 'Job Bank '

Wed, 11/22/2006 - 12:03am

DETROIT (AP) - United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger is reassuring General Motors Corp. and Delphi Corp. retirees and workers about the safety of their pensions and says the union will try to preserve the jobs bank that guarantees pay for laid-off workers.

Gettelfinger also told union members Tuesday that thousands of temporary workers at the auto parts maker Delphi which was once part of GM will become permanent employees under a deal between the union and the auto parts maker.

In an evening Internet chat, Gettelfinger said that the UAW had reached a deal with Delphi ''to convert supplemental temporary employees hired Nov. 20, 2006 or earlier to permanent status.'' He said some contract employees and others would be excluded and that full details would be announced Wednesday.

During an earlier lunch-hour Internet chat Tuesday with union members and reporters on the UAW Web site, Gettelfinger was asked if the union is committed to preserving the jobs bank, in which laid-off workers get most of their pay and benefits even when they're not working.

''Why would you think anything else?'' he replied.

Manufacturers have said that the jobs bank puts them at a competitive disadvantage with their Asian counterparts who make cars in the U.S.

GM, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG have faced troubles this year as high gas prices shifted consumer demand from trucks and sport utility vehicles to more fuel-efficient models made mainly by Japanese competitors. All three, including GM, have announced production cuts to bring factory capacity in line with reduced demand for their products.

The number of workers in jobs banks is likely to fall next year as more workers leave GM and Ford through buyout and early retirement offers.

In the first chat, Gettelfinger said there has been little discussion with Delphi on the company's request to reduce wages and benefits to cut its costs. He took a tougher tone in the evening chat.

''Delphi is a rogue company that used the unfair bankruptcy laws to take advantage of their workers,'' Gettelfinger said. ''Once again, in the final analysis an agreement has to be reached that our membership is willing to ratify.''

Delphi, which GM spun off as a separate company, is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and has asked a court for permission to void its labor contracts.

''Our union has been available to meet with the corporation at any time, day or night, but honestly, at this time there has been very little discussion,'' he said in the first chat.

The next meeting with Judge Robert Drain is slated for Nov. 30. He has set a Jan. 31, 2007 deadline to rule on the labor contract request.

Gettelfinger said GM's pension plan is well funded.

''You have no cause for concern,'' he told a member identified only as a recent retiree from Flint.

Gettelfinger also told a worker from Saginaw that benefit guarantees in the UAW contract with Delphi would prevent the company from defaulting on its pension plan, although he did not see what would happen when the contract expires.

The UAW master contract with Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler expires on Sept. 14, 2007, and Gettelfinger said contract talks would begin with GM in July.

''Our union will approach the '07 negotiations and fight for our membership as we have in the past. There is no use in publicly discussing the strategies we will employ,'' Gettelfinger said.

UAW members earlier this year approved agreements with GM and Ford that would require retirees to pay deductibles, premiums and co-payments for the first time. Gettelfinger told a retiree from Buffalo, N.Y., in a second chat Tuesday that he accepted ''full responsibility'' for granting health care concessions.

''This was only done after a very careful analysis of the companies' finances by our inside and outside experts,'' Gettelfinger said. ''While this was a painful decision for me personally, I was totally convinced it was the right approach to take to provide long-term security for our retirees.''

Gettelfinger also said that GM's annual bonus for hourly workers would be $800 this year.

The Internet chat was in text with no audio or video. A UAW spokesman said that Gettelfinger was responding to the questions.

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