Amid UAW-Detroit 3 negotiations, a call to ‘remember the retirees'

Chuck Brodell retired in 2009 after his local Chrysler assembly plant closed and he said he has not seen his monthly pension checks increase since.

He and other UAW retirees are hoping this year’s negotiations with the Detroit 3 will change that.

The UAW began contract negotiations with Stellantis, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors in July. Three of the UAW’s core demands target retirement: They want the companies to increase retiree pay, re-establish retiree medical benefits and guarantee defined benefit pensions.

When Brodell began at the Chrysler St. Louis South Assembly plant in the 1990s, he was working six days a week, 10 hours a day. But by 2007, the plant was slated to close and the next few years would see the Detroit 3 end pensions and medical coverage for future retirees amid the Great Recession. The current demands in many ways seek to win back benefits that were lost.

“In 2007, we took a tremendous amount of concessions for the Big 3’s survival,” Brodell said. Now, “I hope that the companies look back and remember the retirees that are the ones that put them in the position they are in today.”

Typically, retiree benefits are considered permissive bargaining items, Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who specializes in labor issues, told Automotive News. However, the UAW has contracts with the Detroit 3 that cover retiree benefits, so they are presumably bargainable, he said.

GM declined to comment on the status of retiree benefits in negotiations. A spokesperson for Stellantis said “any discussions around retirees and their benefits are not a mandatory subject of bargaining.

Ford issued this statement in response to a query from Automotive News: “We are committed to creating opportunity for every UAW worker to build a great career and become a full-time permanent Ford employee with good middle-class wages and benefits. We continue to negotiate with the UAW and build on our strong track record of creative solutions as our dramatically changing industry needs a skilled and competitive workforce more than ever.”

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