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GM, UAW begin post-bailout negotiations

by Andrew Ganz

General Motors and the United Auto Workers union began their first labor negotiations since the United States government bailed out GM and Chrysler with a low-interest loans that carried the controversial stipulation that the union be held to certain wage concessions. GM and Chrysler must present long-term plans to the government by mid-February that, among other changes, must include concessions from the union.

President George W. Bush's decision to grant the loans - after Congress stumbled - included wage cuts to match foreign automakers assembling cars on U.S. soil, as well as ensuring that the union shares in the automakers' health care debt.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger published a column in the Detroit News last week, saying that "the terms of the loans approved by President George W. Bush single out members of our union by demanding steeper and faster concessions from the UAW than from any other part of the industry."

Yet analysts say that hourly pay and compensation for UAW members can exceed $70 per hour when health care for retired workers and other benefits are included. The paper says that foreign automakers building cars in the U.S. pay about $45 an hour including compensation.

The difference, argued the Bush administration and the Republicans who stopped the bailout in Congress, is that GM, Ford and Chrysler have to pass on the extra expenses to consumers.

The union says it will work with the upcoming Obama administration to remove the terms of the loan that force union wage cuts.

The union has already suspended its jobs bank program and it has delayed payments to its retiree health care program.