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THE NATION

Automaker Contract Talks Chug Along

United Auto Workers' four-year pacts with the Big Three will expire at midnight tonight.

September 14, 2003|From Associated Press

DETROIT — United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said Saturday the union had reached no agreements with any of the Big Three automakers, whose contracts expire at midnight tonight.

Gettelfinger, speaking at the AFL-CIO-sponsored LaborFest, would not speculate when new agreements would be reached.

"We're keeping all options open," Gettelfinger told reporters after his speech.

Sources familiar with the talks said that a historic simultaneous resolution is likely before the four-year pacts expire.

Representatives of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group declined to discuss the talks Saturday.

Richard Shoemaker, the UAW vice president for GM matters, said Friday in a recorded telephone message for workers that considerable progress had been made.

"We've come a long way since last week and we're now focused on some of the core issues of our contracts," Shoemaker said.

The union and Big Three automakers have never reached simultaneous contract agreements. The union typically chooses one carmaker as the lead negotiator and uses that pact as a model for the other two. This year, the union has been bargaining with all three automakers at once.

The UAW and Big Three, along with suppliers Delphi Corp. and Visteon Corp., have been talking since mid-July. The pacts will cover wages and benefits for 300,000 workers, plus pension payments and benefits for half a million retirees and their spouses.

Some analysts and labor experts say the new contracts likely will reflect the predicaments of the automakers, whose combined U.S. market share fell to an all-time monthly low in August. They said it was likely the union would grant concessions on wages and pension benefits in exchange for the continuation of nearly cost-free health care.

Lynn Conway, a member of UAW Local 909 and an employee at GM's Warren transmission plant, said she is primarily concerned about her medical benefits.

"I've got 27 years in this system," Conway said. "I've earned my way. I don't want them changing my benefits now."

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