Tuesday, April 24, 2007

UAW member perks cut

Tuesday, April 24, 2007
UAW member perks cut
Tough times force Big Three, union to scale back tuition, other programs
Josee Valcourt / The Detroit News

Steep production cuts and shorter working schedules at Detroit's automakers are forcing the companies and the United Auto Workers union to scrap or pare back worker programs that had offered everything from job training to education.

The programs are funded by the companies and by a fraction of workers' salaries based on straight time and overtime, both of which have fallen due to plant closures, layoffs and production cutbacks.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler have all revised the courses they partly subsidize, eliminating or freezing many programs that are not directly related to workers' jobs.

Last month, a governing body comprised of five union members and five Ford representatives decided to slash a plethora of skill-enhancement programs used by workers, retirees and spouses.

"The reduction in hours worked, and particularly the decrease in overtime hours worked, has reduced revenue to the point where Joint Programs is in an unsustainable financial condition," the UAW-Ford National Programs Center said in a letter distributed to union officials, plant managers and plant human resource managers last month. "Unless significant program reductions are made immediately, the UAW-Ford National Programs will be in a deficit situation before the end of 2007."

Gone are services such as individual tutoring for college classes, computer software training, math enrichment sessions and English as a second language. General Educational Development classes, which allow students to earn the equivalent of a high-school diploma, also have been cut.

Educational and training programs tailored for retirees and personal finance courses have been temporarily suspended.

Some programs still offered

But automakers say many programs are still available.

"There is still very important job-related training and educational services that are continuing for employees," said Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans.

For instance, employees will still be reimbursed for the costs incurred in earning certain degrees from accredited colleges.

The carmakers and unions are focusing on maintaining programs on health and safety, job security, quality improvement, sourcing, and plant-operating efficiency, according to company and union officials.

But employees are feeling the cuts.

In addition to the previously announced closure of the child care centers, workers say fitness centers at Ford's Dearborn and Louisville, Ky., truck plants have been shuttered.

At the Rouge plant in Dearborn, self-improvement classes where workers could learn about plumbing or computer programming have been cut.

Moves surprise workers

That is affecting workers who were counting on such courses to help them launch second careers.

"They closed the Rouge Academy completely. They closed all of that," said Ron Turner, who worked in the plant's paint shop for more than 30 years until accepting a buyout several weeks ago.

He had planned to apply for a grant through the UAW-Ford National Programs Center to study broadcasting at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts in Detroit.

"They were supposed to fund up to $4,600 toward my course but when I went to apply, they said that all self-improvement programs have been cut," Turner said. "I'm going to have to come up with some other way to fund my class."

Detroit's automakers have little choice, given pressures to cut costs across the board.

The three domestic automakers are struggling in a cutthroat U.S. market, where their combined market share has slumped, falling 7.7 percent to 55.8 percent over the past year alone.

GM, Ford and Chrysler are restructuring their businesses and, as a result, cutting the hourly work force that contributes to the funding for these programs.

"These are some of the tough decisions that the company has had to make in order to contribute to our turnaround effort," Evans said.

Gym hours cut back

Chrysler workers are also feeling the pinch. Previously, the gym at Warren Stamping was open five days a week until "the wee hours of the morning," said Mike Tremain, a skilled trades worker at the factory. "The hours were cut right in half."

Unions are forced to make tough choices with shrunken budgets. "The locals don't have money to do things they used to," said Chris Sherwood, president of Local 652 in Lansing that represents workers at GM's Cadillac plant.

Sherwood has watched the local membership fall from 14,000 people in 1980 to 3,300 today.

"All that money is lost," he said. "And it's hurting everybody. It's a sad situation."

GM spokesman Dan Flores declined to say which programs have been affected, but he said the company is working with the union to limit the impact. "We are jointly working together with the UAW to look for ways to be as efficient as possible with each and every joint training dollar."

The automaker's U.S. work force has been reduced dramatically, mainly through attrition and large-scale early-retirement programs. GM now has to do "more with less," Flores said.

Along with its unions, GM is "certainly looking for ways to use the joint funds properly," he said.

Detroit News Staff Writer Sharon Terlep contributed to this report. You can reach Josee Valcourt at (313) 222-2300 or jmvalcourt@detnews.com.

UAW-Ford cuts

Production cuts and shorter working schedules have impacted education and other programs for workers, retirees and families. Here is the status of some of those programs:

Family Service and Learning Centers: Child care centers closing on June 30.

Skills Enhancement Programs: In-plant education centers closed, effective April 16.

Fitness Centers: In-plant programs will be redesigned; membership programs at outlying locations will not be renewed.

Retiree Education and Training Assistance Plan: Moratorium on tuition assistance.

Automotive Industries Studies, Prior Learning Assessment and UAW-Ford University: Discontinued.
Source: UAW-Ford National Programs Center

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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