Keep Voting Till You Get It Right

The UAW International’s actions at the Three Rivers, Michigan plant of American Axle and Manufacturing (AAM) could signal a willingness to drastically cut wages for new-hires at the big parts companies. As bargaining with the Big Three was proceeding in August, AAM was demanding a contract reopener and lower wages, in order to bid successfully on new work. The International insisted on a three-tier wage scale at the Three Rivers plant, further fracturing the pattern wage at AAM.

AAM is a supplier of driveshafts and axles, created when GM spun off five of its plants, including Three Rivers, in 1994. Since that time, AAM has acquired seven more plants, and the UAW now represents workers there. Workers in the original plants are paid wages equivalent to the Big Three’s, and the newly acquired plants pay less.

In 2000, UAW Local 2093 at AAM’s plant in Three Rivers, Michigan (near Kalamazoo) accepted a two-tier wage scale, with new-hires starting at $13.50 and maxing out at $17.50 after six years. They could move into the first tier as openings occurred. In May 2003 the International pressured the local to accept an $11.50 third tier, which the company said was necessary to successfully bid on work building driveshafts. Members voted that proposal down.

A group of volunteers, with the support of local officers, then surveyed the membership to see what kind of concessions they might be willing to make in hopes of winning the driveshafts. Pete Bennett, one of the volunteers, said, "The one they least objected to was taking money out of a future wage increase. We asked the people, ‘Would you be willing to take a cut of up to 75c an hour in order to totally eliminate the concept of a third tier for new-hires?’ We got 82% yes."

Management objected, though, that a concession from a future wage increase wasn’t good enough, because they weren’t planning on giving any increases. No Tier One supplier (the big parts companies that directly supply the Big Three) was going to give a raise this year, they told union members informally, and the Big Three might not either.

"Our plant keeps losing bids to [Tier One supplier] Dana," Bennett said, "and Dana pays $15 at their highest paid plant, we are told."



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AAM wanted an immediate cut, and local management, AAM corporate, the UAW regional office, and Local 2093 officers backed the plan, for an across-the-board 75c cut from all first-tier workers at Three Rivers. But the UAW International vetoed the plan, because, they said, it would break the wage pattern in skilled trades. "Excuse ME??" wrote Bennett. "It was [the UAW International] that blessed the breaking of the pattern to establish Tier 2 for Production workers in our North Wing in 2000."

In the 1980s, when the union was making many other concessions to the Big Three, union leaders agreed that new production workers would hire in at 30 percent below scale, but skilled trades were exempt from that cut, and remain so.


Earlier, members had voted unanimously at a union meeting that before any wage changes could be voted on, the local had to call a discussion meeting for all three shifts together, and then allow 72 hours before a vote. But when the new plan was put forward, the shifts met separately and voted the next day. On August 5 the proposal was approved by two-thirds.

The plan backed by the International has a third tier of new-hires starting at $13.50, with no COLA for three years and with higher co-pays than second-tier workers. Second-tier workers must now wait longer to move into the first tier--until the first tier population falls from its current 655 to 425.

First-tier workers took a 63c per hour wage cut. Forty older workers in the first tier were offered incentives to retire early.

In a leaflet urging fellow members to vote no, Bennett wrote, "In order to preserve the jobs at the Big 3, the UAW chose to allow the spin-offs of parts plants, then undercut those locals by having them compete against each other for supplier work at the Big 3. As the plot thickens we see other plants, outside the original 5 AAM plants, joining both AAM and magically the UAW and SURPRISE! Now the original 5 plants will have to compete against other UAW/AAM plants and either lower wages or lose jobs… The ultimate plan is to gain members for the UAW while lowering costs for AAM and the Big 3….

"It sucks, yes, but it is the truth and we must find a way to deal with it without losing our jobs, without taking unequal wage cuts and without selling out the next generation, again!!!"