DETROIT (WWJ) – As new UAW President Dennis Williams heads into the 2015 contract talks, he plans to push hard for a wage increase for GM, Ford and Chrysler workers.
“I think it’s time for our membership to have a reward,” Williams told reporters in an end-of-year roundtable session.”
While workers have received thousands of dollars in profit sharing checks in recent years, Williams points out that veteran workers–those who get the higher tier pay–haven’t had an hourly raise since 2007.
“A general wage increase is important to our members, and it’s important to us as a nation, I believe, to bring the standard of living up.”
Car companies prefer to pay bonuses, because they don’t add to fixed costs, and it’s easier to link pay to the company’s overall performance.
That was fine as a temporary measure during the recession, says Williams. And while the UAW wants to make sure the companies remain profitable.
“It can’t always be off the back of workers,” said Williams. “I don’t accept that premise that it always has to be. If they want to go ahead and want to talk about wages, I’m more than happy to sit down and talk about their salaries.”
Williams pointed out that there are no guarantees in negotiations. The UAW is surveying members to find out their bargaining priorities. One is likely to be an end to the two tier wage scale.
While Williams said that it’s the union’s position that all workers doing the same job should get the same pay, he outlined the goal as moving workers at the lower pay scale closer to the scale that veteran workers earn.
“None of this is going to be easy,” he said. “I had committed to start bridging that gap. Where that will lead us, we don’t know yet.”
The hour-long session, saw the newly elected UAW president touch on a number of topics. He said he’s seen little impact from Michigan’s right-to-work laws. Williams also telling reporters that as the union sees more success signing up members in the south, he expects to see opponents to challenge the union even more.
But, Williams said, the union’s goal remains to organize all of the foreign-owned auto plants in the U.S.
“We’re not naive to think each one of them’s not going to be a challenge. They are going to be a challenge.”
Another effort is to expand the UAW into other industries, like casinos, and to assist workers trying to organize, no matter what industry they are in. Williams said he supports the efforts of fast food workers to get a $15 an hour base wage.
“I’m happy to pay a quarter more for a damn hamburger.”
Talks on the 2015 auto contracts will begin in mid-summer. But, Williams says they’ve been talking with the auto companies continuously already. They will be working toward a mid-December strike deadline.
While the union always has to prepare for a strike, Williams points out that 98 percent of UAW contracts are negotiated without a walkout.
“Striking is a failure on both parties part. We don’t plan in failing.”
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