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Boston Globe: Union, GM reach labor deal

Union, GM reach labor deal

Contract will be template for Ford, Chrysler packages

By Tom Krisher

Associated Press 

DETROIT – Factory workers at General Motors have overwhelmingly approved a new four-year contract that has profit sharing instead of pay raises for most workers and promises thousands of new jobs.

The United Auto Workers union said yesterday that 65 percent of production workers voted for the deal, while 63 percent of skilled-trades workers such as electricians were in favor. Voting by GM’s 48,500 blue-collar workers ended yesterday.

GM was the first company to reach a deal with the union, which is negotiating with Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group. The GM pact is a template for the other companies, but there will be differences. The deal sets the pay and benefits for more than 112,000 auto workers nationwide, and it also sets the bar for pay at foreign-owned auto plants in the United States and at auto-parts suppliers, and for other manufacturing businesses.

It also will have a relatively small impact on GM’s profits, unlike past UAW contracts.

Under the deal, which runs through September 2015, most of the workers won’t get annual pay raises. But they will get $5,000 signing bonuses, profit-sharing checks, and other payments that total at least $11,500 during the next four years. GM also promised to add at least 5,100 jobs.

Entry-level workers who make a base wage of around $15.78 per hour will get 22 percent raises. GM has about 1,900 entry-level workers who make about half the pay of longtime UAW members.

Pressure is now on for Ford and Chrysler to reach agreements with the union.

GM can break even under the new contract – even if US auto sales slump to 10.5 million vehicles in a given year. Sales are running at an annual rate of 12 million so far. The contract also compensates workers for meeting quality standards, a key priority for the company, chief executive Dan Akerson said.

The deal cuts GM’s factory worker labor costs to $5 billion per year, less than a third of the $16 billion the company paid in 2005, Dan Ammann, chief financial officer, said. The figure was $11 billion in 2007, as the company headed into bankruptcy protection and needed a government bailout to survive.

GM also has no pension increase for the first time since 1953, helping to shore up its underfunded pension plans, the company said.

GM will save $50 million this year and $145 million in future years because the deal allows it to stop paying for factory workers’ legal services. The legal costs and early retirement programs will offset some of the profit-sharing and other costs. GM expects the net cost of the deal to be $175 million this year but only $20 million annually in future years.

The deal also includes offers for older employees to leave so it can hire new ones at entry-level wage. Eligible workers can get up to $10,000 if they retire within the next two years. There’s also a $65,000 bonus for skilled-trades workers such as electricians if they retire or leave the company between Nov. 1 and March 31.

Shares of GM fell 78 cents, or 3.68 percent, to $20.41