UAW seeks end to concessions

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Moderate, concessionary bargaining may come to an end in the auto industry this summer when the United Automobile Workers (UAW) negotiates new contracts with General Motors and Ford.

Wage increases appear to have top priority as 2,500 UAW delegates gathered this week in Detroit's Cobo Hall to formulate demands for contract talks with the auto industry and other major employers.

Delegates here, citing the industry's dramatic profit recovery, demanded that auto companies ''share their economic progress with workers'' who gave concessions in 1982 contracts to help employers.

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At the same time, new UAW President Owen Bieber warned delegates, ''We don't want an obsession with wages and benefits on either side to obscure the pressing need to address other long-term issues.''

In 1982, the UAW and the major companies put aside traditional adversarial bargaining to negotiate innovative contracts to hold down labor costs and fend off Japanese and other auto imports. The agreements, which will expire this September, linked auto wage gains to profits and gave stronger guarantees of job security.

Now questions are arising about the survival of the cooperative relationship. The industry and union could be heading back to traditional hard bargaining for money gains and possibly to settlements having a relatively high cost.

The UAW gave concessions estimated at $4 billion in the 1982 contract. Profit-sharing bonuses helped workers somewhat, but unionists were saying this week that hourly wages must rise substantially.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bieber and others in Detroit were noting that employment in the auto industry is still 160,000 below what it was in 1976. Bieber said companies are producing more cars and trucks without a corresponding increase in workers, largely by overtime that averaged 5.9 hours a week for those on the job in 1983.

More than 110,000 auto unionists have not been recalled and ''tens of thousands have lost recall rights'' and may never return to plants, according to Bieber. Overtime worked in 1983 could have produced ''95,000 jobs for our unemployed.''

This will be the first round of negotiations for Bieber as president of the UAW, and his need to win the confidence of the union's rank and file - and their political support - is expected to make him bargain harder for wage and benefit gains.

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