By David Shepardson
(Reuters) -The United Auto Workers union said on Monday it will open contract talks with Detroit’s Big Three automakers starting on Thursday, ahead of the mid-September expiration of the current four-year labor deal.
The union said talks will open on Thursday with Chrysler-parent Stellantis, on Friday with Ford Motor and on July 18 with General Motors on agreements covering about 150,000 U.S. workers.
UAW President Shawn Fain has said repeatedly that the UAW wants to eliminate the two-tier wage system under which new hires earn as much as 25% less than veterans. He has also said the union will push to restore pay improvements tied to the cost of living and to retiree benefits cut during the 2008-2009 Great Recession.
In a break with tradition, the UAW will forgo the traditional media event of shaking hands with company executives to mark the formal opening of talks. Instead, UAW leaders will meet with auto workers on Wednesday at three Detroit-area plants to mark the beginning of talks.
“I’ll shake hands with the CEOs when they come to the table with a deal that reflects the needs of the workers who make this industry run,” Fain said in a statement on Monday.
Detroit’s automakers have doubled down on cutting costs, saying it will help fund an accelerated transition from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles.
Analysts have said the automakers face billions of dollars in losses on EVs over the next several years, as they replace high-volume combustion vehicles with low-volume EVs powered by expensive batteries.
On Monday, GM said it has “a long history of negotiating fair contracts with the UAW that reward our employees and support the long-term success of our business” and said its “total compensation package … is one of the best in the industry.”
Ford CEO Jim Farley said in an opinion piece published in the Detroit Free Press last week that “success in this new world will require us to adapt. Some jobs will be disrupted, and some will be created.” Late last month, Ford had another round of salaried-worker job cuts.
UAW Vice President Chuck Browning said in a response to Farley on Monday that hourly workers have received “unfairly disproportionate” pay.
The UAW in May said it was not yet endorsing U.S. President Joe Biden for re-election, citing his policies on EVs. Fain called a Biden administration plan to lend $9.2 billion to a joint venture of Ford and South Korea’s SK On to build three U.S. battery plants a massive “giveaway” with “no consideration for wages, working conditions, union rights or retirement security.”
The White House said it has named adviser Gene Sperling as a “point person” on the UAW automaker labor talks.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in WashingtonEditing by David Gregorio and Matthew Lewis)
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