UAW agrees to suspend Jobs Bank, Gettelfinger says

The UAW has agreed to suspend the Jobs Bank program and allow the Detroit 3 to delay making payments to a retiree health care trust in 2010 to help the automakers through their cash crisis, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said.

Gettelfinger spoke after summoning the presidents and chairmen from Detroit 3 locals for an emergency meeting in Detroit today.

At the meeting, the union did not discuss wage and benefit concessions for active employees, said Jeff Everett, a local Chrysler president.

Changes to the Jobs Bank and Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Associations can be accomplished without reopening the 2007 master contracts with General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC, he said. As in 2005, the union created a new VEBA with the Detroit 3 without opening the contracts and subjecting the changes to a vote by the rank-and-file.

"Times are tough, and we are going to do what we have to do,'' said Everett, president of UAW Local 1166 in Kokomo, Ind., in an interview. Under the so-called Jobs Bank program, laid-off factory workers can receive as much as 95 percent of their regular pay. The payouts have drawn scorn from opponents of federal aid who see them as a sign of Detroit's excess. About 3,500 workers combined at the three automakers are in the bank now.

Gettelfinger and the automakers' CEOs are scheduled to appear before the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow and the House Financial Services Committee on Friday.

The automakers presented their recovery plans to Congress yesterday. They are seeking as much as $34 billion in loans and lines of credit as the industry confronts the weakest sales in 26 years. GM and Chrysler say they need a combined $11 billion this year to stay solvent.

Under last year's contract with the UAW, the Detroit automakers transferred retiree health care obligations to a union-run fund. GM, for example, agreed to shed a $51 billion liability by contributing $35.3 billion to the trust.

Asked what concessions he would like to see from the UAW, Chrysler co-President Tom LaSorda declined to offer specifics.

"What we'd like to do is go back to Ron (Gettelfinger) and go through the whole framework of the agreeement," LaSorda told reporters at a Chrysler town hall meeting at the Toledo Supplier Park in Ohio Wednesday.

He said Chrysler had made "very high level submissions" to the union and that he and Gettelfinger were talking regularly.

Bradford Wernle and Reuters contributed to this report

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UAW President Ron Gettelfinger



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