17 October 2010

UAW Workers protest Leaders

The Detroit Free Press

Orion plant's 2-tier wage deal draws members from 3 states

Union members who protested at the UAW's headquarters in Detroit on Saturday said they are worried that a contract for General Motors' plant in Orion Township sets a precedent that will be used to broaden the use of a lower, tier-two wage at other plants.

More than 100 UAW workers and retirees came from Indiana, Ohio and across Michigan to protest against UAW leadership, who they believe are out of touch with members' concerns.

"I am hoping that they feel some type of embarrassment that we have to come out to Solidarity House in order for them to hear our message," said Nick Waun, 31, of Lapeer, who works at the Orion plant and helped organize the rally.

Planning for the demonstration began after workers were told Oct. 3 of a deal between the UAW and GM that calls for 40% of the workers at the Orion plant to be paid the lower wage, which is about half the $28 that tier-one workers make.

Waun said that if he refuses an offer from GM to transfer to the Lordstown, Ohio, plant, where the Chevy Cruze is built, he would remain laid off and retain his right to be called back to Orion at the lower second-tier wage.

"I am not going to turn it down, because I can't afford to give up my income," Waun said.

In an interview Saturday, UAW President Bob King explained that the UAW and GM reached the special local agreement so the Orion plant -- which had been selected for closure last year -- could make a subcompact car profitably. That small car had previously been slated for production in South Korea.

"We have made it very, very clear that this is only for a small car," King said after speaking at a political rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero in Warren.

"If we brought a truck into Orion, that would be at the traditional wages, so this is not going to go to other plants unless we are able to bring a (subcompact) car into Ford or Chrysler that we don't currently have. We might look at something similar for that situation. But as far as traditional products, those are going to stay under the current agreement."

King said workers have a right to appeal the agreement but argues that the Orion Township agreement was consistent with the UAW's national labor agreement.

"Ultimately, we will have a plant, and if General Motors does very well ... then we will have the opportunity to make gains in the future for our membership," King said. "If you don't have a plant, then you can't make the gains."

Despite efforts by the union and GM to paint Orion as a special circumstance, concern remains.

"This is a precedent," said Gregg Shotwell, co-founder of the Soldiers of Solidarity, a UAW dissident group. "This indicates where the UAW is heading going into negotiations in 2011."

Gregory Clark, chairman of UAW Local 23 in Indianapolis, sees parallels between the Orion deal and the situation his workers faced at a GM stamping plant in Indianapolis. Last month, workers there defeated a union contract negotiated with a potential plant buyer that would have cut unskilled workers' wages almost in half.

"It is definitely a pattern. ... They will whipsaw Orion against the next facility," Clark said.

"If they can do this to the Orion workers, they can do this to everyone," said Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman from UAW Local 600 in Dearborn. He also fought to defeat modifications of Ford's national contract last fall. At Orion, UAW officials have said that they don't expect any workers who make the standard $28 wage to be forced to accept the lower, second-tier wage. However, that depends on nearly 300 workers with 29 years of experience accepting early retirement, and on some workers transferring to other plants.

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