Monday, July 03, 2006

UAW, Delphi won't break from talks

Thursday, June 29, 2006
UAW, Delphi won't break from talks
Brett Clanton / The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers will continue talks with bankrupt auto supplier Delphi Corp. during its annual two-week plant shutdown next month, but the UAW will not be pressured into accepting a wage-cutting deal before it is ready, the union's new top negotiator for Delphi and GM said Wednesday.

Even though both sides have been locked in negotiations for months, there are still major issues to resolve and little hope of reaching an agreement quickly, UAW Vice President Cal Rapson said in his first meeting with UAW leaders from GM and Delphi plants.

Absent a deal, Delphi will return to bankruptcy court on Aug. 11 to seek permission to void its labor contracts. Such an approval would allow the supplier to impose wage cuts and push the union closer to a devastating strike.

But Rapson dismissed the deadline Wednesday in a move that suggests he is already plotting a defiant course in talks with Delphi.

Any goal that Delphi has is Delphi's goal and doesn't mean anything to the union, Rapson said, according to Robert Betts, president of UAW Local 2151, which represents Delphi workers in Coopersville, Mich. Betts attended Wednesday's meeting in Detroit.

The UAW meeting came as Delphi prepared to return to bankruptcy court in New York today, where a judge is expected to approve two worker buyout programs at Delphi that will take an even bigger slice out of the UAW and the International Union of Electrical Workers-Communication Workers of America in coming months.

If approved, the buyout programs will usher thousands more Delphi workers out the door of the troubled company. On Monday, Delphi said 12,600 of its 33,000 U.S. factory workers had accepted early retirement offers under a separate program and would leave the company by the end of the year.

The programs are part of a sweeping turnaround effort at Delphi, which filed for bankruptcy in October after failing to win concessions from its six unions and bailout money from GM.

GM, which spun off the supplier in 1999, still has obligations to former employees at the parts maker and remains Delphi's biggest customer. That's why the automaker entered the Delphi-UAW talks in November and continues to be a key player.

But if Delphi returns to court on Aug. 11 without a wage-cut agreement and pushes to reject its labor contracts, the whole process could go south. A strike at Delphi could not only wreck the supplier, but tip GM into bankruptcy.

Delphi spokesman Lindsey Williams said the supplier is determined not to let that happen.

"It is our focus to reach a comprehensive agreement prior to Aug. 11," he said.

GM spokeswoman Toni Simonetti also said it is in the best interests of all the parties to get a deal done outside of court in coming weeks.

But UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Rapson on Wednesday suggested that finding common ground with Delphi may be difficult unless the company backs off demands for brutal wage cuts and benefit reductions.

The union may be willing to negotiate on some issues, but contends that the current labor contract, which sets wage rates for new hires at nearly half the rate of existing workers, is already competitive, according to one UAW official who attended the meeting.

In bankruptcy, Delphi has sought to lower its $27 per hour wages by as much as 60 percent. But the UAW does not want to renegotiate wages until its contract expires in 2007.

Separately, Delphi's creditors are seeking the right to sue GM to retrieve billions of dollars in costs they said were transferred to Delphi when it was spun off in 1999.

In papers filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan Tuesday, Delphi's creditors blamed the spin-off for much of Delphi's current financial troubles. Delphi has made the same contention in court papers, but the creditors said it has lately shown signs of wanting to let GM off the hook.

Detroit News wire services contributed to this report. You can reach Brett Clanton at (313) 222-2612 or

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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