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UAW contract talks underway in Detroit

Because of the prominence of the auto industry in the state, a large number of Michigan workers are union members. Many of the employment rights of these workers are governed by collective bargaining agreements negotiated between the union and corporate management.

Recently, the United Auto Workers and the Detroit Three automakers opened their labor contract negotiations on a positive note. Some factors that are likely to have an impact on the negotiations include the burgeoning auto industry in Mexico and the enactment of so-called "right-to-work" anti-union laws in several states, including Michigan. Additionally, the presence of non-union competitors is expected to have a major impact on this year's talks between the major auto companies and the UAW.

The auto industry has added 15,750 workers since 2009, a 13 percent increase. The industry has emphasized the cooperation that the companies and the union demonstrated when they announced $5.4 billion in investments in various U.S. auto plants. The vice president of GM, Cathy Clegg, stated that the company and the unions have adopted a problem-solving approach. That will help efforts to expand business and it will also be good for the employees.

One crucial point that is likely to influence the talks is the fact that in September the unions will regain the right to strike, which they agreed to suspend in favor of binding arbitration in connection with the 2009 industry bailouts.

The companies have indicated they would prefer to extend employment benefits to veteran UAW workers through bonus and profit-sharing initiatives, before raising base pay for all workers. The union, on the other hand, has expressed a wish to narrow the pay gap between those who were hired before and after 2007.

The new labor contract will be the first one since Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed the anti-union "right-to-work" law. In those states, union members who do not agree with agreements reached between union and management can choose not to pay union dues the next year.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "What's at stake at the UAW contract talks," Greg Gardner, July 12, 2015

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