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UAW will seek to shrink pay gap between veteran, entry-level workers

Kate Wells
Michigan Radio

No union member likes the fact that pay for entry-level workers at GM, Ford, and Chrysler is capped at about $19 an hour.

Not the workers themselves, known as "tier two."

Not the higher-paid workers, known as "tier one," like Jeep assembly line worker Samantha Price, who says the system creates inter-personal conflict at her Toledo plant "every day.  Every single day."

And not UAW President Dennis Williams, who says the system was created under duress, to help embattled Detroit automakers survive the recession.

"As we share in the bad times, we must equally share in the good times," he says. "Our goal is to raise everybody up and bridge the gap."

Delegates at the two-day bargaining convention in Detroit approved a resolution calling on negotiating teams to get contracts that shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid workers – although a motion to try to eliminate the system altogether failed to pass.

Williams acknowledges the bargaining will be difficult. 

He says the contracts must keep domestic automakers competitive, help them build high-quality products, while sharing the benefits of the companies' success with workers.

Detroit car companies are now solidly profitable, but they're fighting to keep their labor costs competitive with companies like Honda, which has non-unionized plants in the U.S., and Nissan, which relies heavily on lower-paid temporary workers at its U.S. factories.

Many automakers are also building many vehicles in Mexico, where labor unions are weak, and base pay is about $5 an hour.  That means fewer union jobs in the U.S. – and less clout at the bargaining table.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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