The Association of U S West Retirees



GM contract talks said to be close to deal on health care trust
Creating the fund to pay for retiree benefits had been the sticking point in negotiations that have dragged on after the contract expired.
By Dee-ann Durbin, Associated Press
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Saturday, September 22, 2007

DETROIT - General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers are close to an agreement on a historic deal that would transfer the automaker's retiree health care costs to a trust managed by the union, according to a person who was briefed on the contract talks.

The details of the plan haven't yet been worked out, said the person, who requested anonymity because the talks are private.

An agreement on the health care trust is the linchpin of the negotiations, which began in July and have already gone a week past their original deadline.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told members Friday that he is trying to speed up negotiations with General Motors and wants to reach a contract agreement without a strike.

"We are continuing to make progress; however, we are pushing to accelerate the negotiating pace at all levels," he said in a message to UAW members.  "It is our desire to reach an agreement without a strike, and we have demonstrated this by staying at the bargaining table up to this point."

Gettelfinger added that the effort to speed the talks doesn't mean any of the union's options are off the table, including a strike, according to the message, which was posted Friday on a union website.

GM and the UAW spent Friday negotiating issues such as wages and job security, while experts helped finalize the possible health care deal, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

GM and the union have asked an independent party to review both sides' financial calculations for a deal that would place the automaker's retiree health care obligations in a UAW-managed trust, according to a local union leader who was briefed on the talks, who also requested anonymity.

In the meantime, Friday's talks focused on outstanding issues other than the health care trust, according to another person who was briefed on the talks but, like others involved, requested anonymity.

That person said that the pace of the talks has picked up and negotiators are expected to meet through the weekend.  Negotiators have settled noneconomic issues such as grievance procedures, but still are working through issues including pay, job security and pensions.

Local union officials said that they had gotten few updates from bargainers, and expressed some frustration at the long wait for a new contract.  Friday marked one week since the expiration of GM's contract with the union.  The UAW has been extending the contract hour-by-hour since then.

Chris (Tiny) Sherwood, the president of Local 652 in Lansing, Mich., said that it's unusual for the contract to be extended for so long on an hour-by-hour basis.  The union is continuing to tell local leaders to have workers ready for a strike if talks break down.

"A week later we're still hanging in there," Sherwood said.

Negotiators went home Friday evening and were to meet again this morning, GM spokeswoman Katie McBride said.

The talks likely will take several more days to complete, one of the people briefed about the talks said.

Gettelfinger said negotiators have met for 18 days in a row.  He said that the union is releasing little information to members because the negotiations frequently change.

"We want you to know, once again, that we do not take your patience for granted, and GM should know not to take the patience of our bargaining committee for granted either," Gettelfinger said.