GM, UAW Start Talks: UAW Not In 'Concessionary Mode'

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A ceremonial handshake marked the formal start of negotiations between one of the Lansing area's largest employers and the union that represents its workers.

But don't confuse the smiles with a sense that General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers are close to a deal.

"A strike remains a possibility," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told reporters Monday.

That word comes despite rough times for the automakers -- a point stressed by GM lead negotiator Diana Tremblay.

"The competitive challenges are, I think, the greatest we've ever seen," Tremblay said. "And I don't think they're decreasing in intensity."

One of those challenges: substantially higher healthcare costs than Japanese automakers. The UAW negotiated a change in healthcare benefits two years ago that asks retirees to pay more.

"They're not looking for us to do any more in that regard," Gettelfinger said.

The changes came under the contract negotiated in 2003. So what about changes this year?

"We're not going into these negotations in a concessionary mode," he said.

Both sides said little about what will be up for discussion. We asked about the jobs bank, a program that pays laid-off workers.

"We're going to talk about all the issues that come up at the bargaining table," Gettelfinger said. "I wouldn't even speculate whether that'll come up as an issue or not."

"I think it all comes down to cost at the end of the day, right?" Tremblay said. "It's not so important which bucket that cost falls into. It's the total cost that we're looking at."

Some of the negotiations will take place in Detroit at the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources. GM's contract with the UAW is set to expire September 14.

Gettelfinger said he couldn't speculate as to whether a contract could come early.

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