Statement on UAW/GM Tentative Agreement
We regret the decision by the UAW negotiators to tentatively agree to place the future health care protection of hundreds of thousands of UAW retired members under a union run Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA. We believe it irresponsible by the parties to this negotiation to shift the burden of risk to the retired workers and their families and release General Motors from its commitment to the full and perpetual coverage of healthcare for the workers who built the wealth of the corporation in the first place.
We have previously noted the lack of any real discussion or debate among the members and secondary leadership of the union prior to the negotiations on the VEBA. Springing a new and potentially hazardous economic concept on an unsuspecting membership, either active or retired, is alien to the democratic principles in our governing constitution. That a VEBA can be dangerous is well documented. UAW retired members covered by a VEBA at Caterpillar can painfully vouch for that. Their VEBA went bust and they now have thousands of dollars in unanticipated out-of-pocket costs per year for reduced health care protection.
In a recent letter to International President Gettelfinger, a prominent Detroit area local union’s leaders stated: “Most VEBAs allow the companies to wash their hands of retiree health care. If things don’t go according to ‘plan’, it will be our own union telling retirees to drain their life savings to pay for medical care. That’s unacceptable because it goes against everything our union stands for.” And even former UAW President Douglas Fraser expressed his reservations about a VEBA when he said; “God help us if we get into a depression or recession and the value of the fund plummets and the UAW is sitting there with this huge liability.”
The Big 3 clamor to relieve themselves of the cost of retiree health care may be applauded by Wall Street and the investor class, but unions have a different responsibility and a different constituency. By going the VEBA route the parties will have missed a historic opportunity to inject their significant political clout in the growing push for a national health care system in this country patterned after the Canadian ‘Medicare for All’ system. That’s a system that each company acknowledges has leveled the competitiveness playing field for them there.
From the start, this round of negotiations was projected by the media to be about what autoworkers could domeaning give upto help the domestic auto manufacturers out of the ‘competitiveness’ hole they’d dug themselves into. Yet GM showed a profit last quarter of $891 million as reported July 31, 2007 in Market Watchand their stock is soaring. There are a number of worker concessions in the tentative agreement which unfairly penalize workers and their families for management’s design failures.
We respectfully recommend that the GM UAW membership vote ‘NO’ and that the leadership instruct the workers to remain at work while they rejoin the negotiations to correct the VEBA mistake and other unjust concessions currently in the tentative agreement.
Paul Schrade, Warren Davis, Jerry Tucker
Former UAW Directors:
Region 6, Region 2, Region 5
Issued September 26, 2007