UAW Sets Sights on Transplant Automakers

United Auto Workers union president Bob King warned foreign transplant automakers that the union has its sights set on them as well.

Appearing with General Motors Company CEO Dan Akerson at the opening of contract talks with Detroit’s Big 3 automakers on Wednesday, King said, “Those managements are going to understand that when they work together with their work forces — when they treat them with respect and give them fair contracts and a middle-class standard of living — that’s the best way to be the most competitive country in the world.”

He also said that the collaborative contract negotiations prove that management and labor can work together to improve quality and increase productivity at the transplant’s U.S. facilities.

King said he believes organizing workers at transplant facilities is the only way to increase compensation for union members and hopes to organize at least one such plant by year’s end.

General Motors Company’s vice president of labor relations Cathy Clegg said the automaker’s relationship with the UAW is a productive one and wished King “success” in his attempts to unionize the transplants.

The UAW is concurrently negotiating its contracts with Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company. The current, four-year contracts are set to expire on September 14.

GM CEO Dan Akerson said the automaker’s current labor costs are competitive and expressed optimism that they would remain so under the new contract agreement.

According to one person familiar with GM’s labor plans, the company does not want to lose ground it gained with the current contract. GM currently pays its hourly UAW workers an average of $58, including benefits. In 2010, the automaker also paid bonuses of $4,300 per worker.  Transplants pay their non-union hourly workers an average of about $51 per hour.

Last year GM reportedly spent $665 million on health care benefits for union workers and their dependents. The person said GM would like to see additional reductions in health care costs. UAW hourly workers at GM facilities currently pay about 7 percent of their health care costs.

King has vowed not to accept additional cuts in wages or benefits. He also wants GM to agree to reopen its idled assembly plants in Janesville, Wisconsin, Shreveport, Louisiana and Spring Hill, Tennessee once demand warrants such a move.

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