UAW Accused of Over-Selling New GM Contract

Union leaders came away from contract talks with General Motors convinced that the new labor agreement included a guarantee that the company would not reduce the union work force. But GM is telling investors it has made no such pledge.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And now we go to the new General Motors contract. United Auto Workers officials say they expect to keep the current number of jobs, but GM isn't offering any such guarantees.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT: When the two sides reached a tentative agreement last month, Union vice president Cal Rapson described the deal as an exchange. Speaking after a news conference, he said the union would take over responsibility for retiree health care.

Mr. CAL RAPSON (Vice President, United Auto Workers): And the trade that would have taken that liability off their books was some major job opportunities. If the market's stays the same, we'll have as many people, if not more, in four years. So we're pretty pleased.

LANGFITT: It was a bold statement, and one sure to be popular with members. As the Detroit auto industry struggles to survive, Rapson was predicting that jobs in the U.S. would not fall from today's level of nearly 74,000. But in a press conference with investors yesterday, GM was asked if it agreed without assessment. Fritz Henderson, GM's chief financial officer, said no.

Mr. FRITZ HENDERSON (Chief Financial Officer, General Motors): There's a million things that'll drive the overall manpower levels within the company, so this part I really - I'm not going to make a projection of it. I think we have the ability in this contract to properly adjust our workforce to, you know, get ourselves to the right level of productivity we need to run, and then we'll see if that - in the future.

LANGFITT: Some dissident union members have accused their leaders of overselling the new contract. They say that although the contract guarantees jobs at many plants, it also calls for plant closings. GM's statements yesterday won't affect the fate of the contract. Union members ratified it last week.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.

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