- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

DETROIT (AP) — United Auto Workers representatives told their members they were close to new labor agreements with General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. but that difficult issues remained as negotiations stretched on yesterday.

The union announced early yesterday that it had reached a tentative, four-year deal with DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group.

The Big Three and UAW began talks on new labor pacts in mid-July, but GM and Ford were unable to reach resolutions before the contracts expired at midnight Sunday.

The union said workers for both companies will report to work as usual while negotiations continue. The UAW had hoped to reach simultaneous pacts with the Big Three, as well as with auto suppliers Visteon Corp. and Delphi Corp.

“We’re very close to completing our work, but we’re not done yet,” Brock Roy, a member of the UAW’s national negotiating committee meeting with Ford and Visteon, said in a telephone message recorded yesterday for workers. “The UAW, Ford and Visteon have agreed to a three-day extension so we continue negotiating on a couple of very difficult issues.”

Mr. Roy did not specify the issues, and representatives of the automakers and UAW have declined to discuss the talks substantively.

In a similar message posted Sunday night for GM workers, UAW negotiator Clyde Sims also said the two sides were nearing a resolution but declined to specify matters still on the table.

At a time when the U.S. market share for GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler is at an all-time low, analysts and labor specialists have said the probability of a strike is low.

Details of the tentative agreement with Chrysler have not been released, but UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said the deal contains what the union hopes to see in the other contracts. The pact covers wages and benefits for 63,000 active workers and 66,000 retirees and surviving spouses.

UAW Vice President Nate Gooden said in a recorded message yesterday that the deal accomplishes the union’s collective-bargaining goals and protects retirement pensions, wages and health care while improving health and safety. The contract must be ratified by Chrysler workers.

“The national bargaining committee fully supports the language of the proposed new agreement,” Mr. Gooden said.

The union and the companies have been negotiating on issues such as wages, jobs, health care and pensions that affect 300,000 workers and nearly a half-million retirees and their spouses.

Some analysts and labor specialists have said the new pacts likely will reflect the difficult predicaments of the automakers and that compromise in areas such as wage and pension increases is likely.

Mr. Gettelfinger has insisted the union will not retreat on health care benefits, so some analysts say negotiators are likely to reach agreements that will give automakers more flexibility in plant closings in exchange for continued low-cost medical coverage.

Goldman Sachs analyst Gary Lapidus said yesterday he predicts the Chrysler pact — which the union will use as a model for the others — is largely “status quo.”

“Labor likely gives up job protection for the union, but in return maintains gold-plated benefits and job security for the existing actives and retirees,” Mr. Lapidus said in a research report.

“In return, the automakers can increase productivity by ‘riding the labor attrition curve’ and can close selected plants as able through regular and approved early-retirement programs.”

Another Wall Street analyst, Morgan Stanley’s Stephen J. Girsky, has said the Big Three likely need to close between seven and 10 plants in North America to move supply and demand into better balance.

The latest contracts were negotiated in 1999 during the term of Mr. Gettelfinger’s predecessor, Stephen Yokich, who died last year shortly after his retirement. Those pacts included 3 percent annual pay increases, a ban on plant closings and nearly cost-free health care.

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