The ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement between the United Autoworkers (UAW) and GM has been put on hold.
The union and the company on November 1 reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year collective bargaining agreement, The union membership voted in favor of the agreement by a 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent margin.
But 59.2 percent of the skilled trades workers–electricians, tool and die makers, millwrights, etc.–voted against it.
When a majority of skilled trades workers vote no on a contract, the UAW constitution requires that union leaders meet with the skill trades workers to learn their reason for voting no.
After the consultations, the UAW executive board must decide whether to affirm ratification or return to the bargaining table.
UAW President Dennis Williams on November 12 announced the union’s executive board’s decision.
“Based on this feedback from the skilled trades membership, I have determined that further discussion with the company was needed,” said Williams. “Such discussions are currently taking place.”
The union and the company agreed to extend the current collective bargaining agreement until November 20, the new deadline for the union to announce ratification of the agreement.
During the meetings, skilled trades workers told union officials that they were disappointed that the $60,000 retirement incentive given to eligible production workers wasn’t extended to skilled trades workers.
They also said that the new agreement doesn’t do enough to keep GM from outsourcing their work, it doesn’t provide for enough badly needed new apprentices, and it allows GM to continue its restructuring of skilled trade work.
One of the management trends in the auto industry is to reduce labor costs by restructuring skilled trades work.
In some cases, this means cross training skilled trade workers in other crafts.
For many, such restructuring is an insult to their professionalism and their craftsmanship.
As one worker put it, GM would like its skilled trades workers to be general handymen rather than master craftsmen.
“They’re watering down the skills we have,” said Darryl Sutton, who voted against the contract, to The Detroit News.
Another way to put it is that GM like other auto companies is in the process of deskilling the skilled trades.
Deskilling has a number of consequences for those affected. It puts them in a position of having to perform work for which they have not been properly trained, which could lead to heightened safety risks and less than optimal job performances.
As deskilling causes their crafts to be merged, the workers seniority rights and shift preferences could be affected as well.
Skilled trade workers also are concerned that the new agreement doesn’t go far enough to protect their jobs from outsourcing.
GM already outsources building repair and maintenance work, and as GM implements new technology, it is outsourcing some of the maintenance and repair work associated with the new technology.
The new contract establishes a working group of management and skilled trades representatives to review the introduction of new technology and to determine whether repair and maintenance associated with it should be conducted by union workers or outsourcing contractors.
For many skilled trades workers, this measure doesn’t go far enough to protect union jobs.
One skilled trade worker in a Facebook post said that the main reason he voted no was because the agreement,”allows GM to outsource all traditional trades work.”
Another concern raised by skilled trades workers is that the new contract promises too few new apprenticeship positions.
According to the union’s summary of the new contract, GM will create 1300 new skilled trade positions of which at least 400 will be new apprenticeships.
There are 8500 skilled trades workers at GM, about 16 percent of the workforce. More than half of these workers are old enough and have enough service time to retire.
It’s only a matter of not-too-much time before these workers retire. Skilled workers are concerned that the new skilled positions and apprentices designated in the contract won’t be enough to keep up with this kind of attrition.
Furthermore, GM in the past reduced the number of skilled trade positions.
The dearth of skilled trade positions both in the present and in the future will make it easier for the company to outsource more work.
During the meetings taking place now between the UAW and GM, these non-economic issues will be on the table.
But what won’t be on the table are economic issues. No matter how the talks turn out, there won’t be any change to the pay, bonuses, and other economic issues such as the $60,000 retirement incentive for eligible production employees negotiated in new collective bargaining agreement.
Before the UAW announced that it would restart talks with GM, skilled trade workers who voted against the agreement were hoping that GM and the union leadership take their concerns seriously.
“The skilled trades side of the agreement is a concessionary agreement,” said Dennis Ybarra, a GM millwright who voted no, to The Detroit News. “I would hope that (the union leadership) would go back to General Motors. There are some serious issues on the skilled trades side.”