GM Looks To Union Heath Care, Pensions To Lessen Financial Burden; Admits Accounting Troubles

In September, current contracts expire and the company will renegotiate with the UAW; Company also says it is working to fix problems with financial reporting.

Detroit (AP)- General Motors Corp. will try to reduce its staggering employee and retiree health care liabilities in upcoming contract talks with the United Auto Workers, according to a government regulatory filing Thursday.

GM said its obligation for post-retirement health care and other benefits was $68 billion at the end of last year and could grow on a global basis, the company said in its annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Detroit-based company also said in the filing that its internal financial controls are ineffective and that it was working to fix them.

In the filing, GM said it spent $4.8 billion on health care in the U.S. last year, and that is expected to drop only slightly to $4.7 billion this year.

''We must continue to make structural changes to reduce our U.S. health-care cost burden, the source of our largest competitive cost disadvantage,'' the company said in the filing.

GM said it needs to continue to reduce structural and material costs, and its production must become more efficient in order to return to profitability. But it said restrictions in labor agreements could limit cost savings.

''Our current collective bargaining agreement with the UAW will expire in September 2007, and we intend to pursue our cost-reduction goals vigorously in negotiating the new agreement,'' the company said, adding that a UAW strike or threat of a strike could affect its business and impair further cost reductions.

GM said it provides extensive pension and retiree health care benefits to more than 400,000 retirees and surviving spouses in the U.S.

In the filing, the company pointed out that the UAW agreed to retiree health-care cost sharing in 2005 that reduced its post-retirement health care obligations by $17 billion, and it capped salaried retiree health care spending levels effective in January.

A UAW spokesman declined to comment on the filing.

On Wednesday, GM, the world's largest automaker, reported a 2006 fourth-quarter net profit of $950 million, but the company still lost $2 billion for the year. It also lost $10.4 billion in 2005, and is in the midst of shedding thousands of jobs and closing plants to shrink its factory capacity to be more competitive with Asian automakers, mainly Toyota Motor Corp.

The earnings had been delayed due to accounting troubles that forced GM to restate its earnings back to 2002.

Also in the filing, GM said its internal financial reporting controls are ineffective, and it said it has received subpoenas from the SEC and a federal grand jury investigating its financial reporting.

The investigations include GM's financial reporting for its pension and other post-retirement employee benefits and its transactions with Delphi Corp., GM's former parts operation that was spun off as a separate company.

The filing said GM has continued to improve its internal controls, but if it can't fix them permanently, ''It may adversely impact our ability to report our financial condition and results of operations in the future accurately and in a timely manner, and may potentially adversely impact our reputation with stakeholders,'' the filing said.

GM also said it is cooperating with the government in the investigations.

''A negative outcome of one or more of these investigations could require us to restate prior financial results and could result in fines, penalties or other remedies being imposed on GM,'' the filing said.

The company detailed federal investigations into its transactions with Delphi and other suppliers in its 2005 annual report filed last year.

Earlier this year, GM said it had hired outside financial advisers to help restructure its corporate controller's office.

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