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UAW Delegates Kill COLA for Retirees

May 23, 1990

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Delegates to a United Auto Workers bargaining strategy convention Tuesday killed an effort that would have required bargainers to seek cost-of-living protection for the union’s 446,000 retirees.

By knocking down a procedural move to have the convention consider a resolution from a Flint, Mich., local, delegates supported UAW President Owen Bieber’s plea to keep negotiating committees unfettered.

After winning the vote Bieber engineered a quick end to the convention, which originally was scheduled to conclude Wednesday, with delegates adopting dozens of resolutions directing negotiators this summer.

At a news conference later, Bieber said the union would seek inflation protection for its 446,000 retirees.

″We’ll have the whole six miles out there,″ he said, meaning all options to protect the income of pensioners will be considered.

The UAW isn’t required to bargain for retirees. But in the past, the union has negotiated lump-sum payments for retirees to counter inflation.

A COLA for retirees proposal could be extremely costly for the Big Three automakers, the companies and the union have said. The union estimates that such a provision could cost more than $1 billion a year for the Big Three.

Contract talks open in July with each of the Big Three.

Automakers and UAW executives alike have warned that the cost of a sliding inflation protection instead of a lump-sum payment could result in reductions in other benefits.

Despite that, the COLA for retirees issue has been gaining steam in recent months.

On Tuesday, after about an hour’s debate, a move by delegate Alex Wassell to bring a resolution from Flint calling for COLA for retirees to the convention floor failed overwhelmingly in a show-of-hands vote.

During the debate, Bieber repeatedly told delegates that although a separate resolution doesn’t include specific references to COLA, negotiators would bring the matter to bargaining tables at General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp.

″I do not believe that there is one single person in this convention hall, and certainly your president, who reads that language to preclude our attempting to get COLA,″ Bieber said.

That wasn’t good enough for Wassell of Local 1776 at GM’s Willow Run, Mich., assembly plant.

″I was trying to shoehorn Bieber into getting the language,″ he said. ″I’m not satisfied because Bieber may indeed not make that a top priority.″

In his opening address on Monday, Bieber listed five major bargaining goals - job security, pension improvements, higher wages, protection of health-care benefits and responsible management by the automakers.

There was little debate during the first two days of the convention, with the exception of retirees’ inflation protection.

″Brother Bieber said it does not preclude fighting for COLA on pensions. I believe that’s not half strong enough,″ said Mike Nuckolls of Local 1999 in Oklahoma City.

″There is one issue we can’t let them wimp out on,″ he said. ″We need COLA for pensions.″

Also Tuesday, UAW members voted overwhelmingly to combine three of the union’s 15 U.S. regions into two. The merger would occur only when one of the three regional directors leaves office for any reason.

The three regions - 2, 2A and 2B in Ohio, West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania - have just under 113,000 members. The consolidation reflects the shrinking size of the union, which has dropped from a high of about 1.5 million members in the 1970s to about 1 million now.

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