Negotiations Could Shape Future for Workers, Region, Big Three

By: Tony Tagliavia Email
By: Tony Tagliavia Email

Standing across the street from the now-shuttered plant he where started his General Motors career, Karl Struble is wondering about his future.

"I'm expecting a lot of changes," he said.

Those changes could come at the summer negotations the UAW is now preparing for in Detroit. And they could be substantial.

"Naturally heatlhcare, pensions, wages," said John Beck, who heads the labor education program at Michigan State University.

Beck says educational benefits for workers could be discussed, as well as the jobs bank. That's the GM program that keeps laid-off workers paid and doing community service work.

"All these things have a huge effect on the individual workers and on the local economy," Beck said. "For every dollar an individual is paid at GM, that individual can go out and buy groceries. The grocer can buy a car. The car dealer can by flowers for his or her wife."

What happens this summer could also have an effect on the thousands of GM retirees living in mid-Michigan.

"Each day we're adding more and more retirees onto the system," Beck said. That means greater and greater costs for GM, Ford and Chrysler.

GM could again ask retirees to share in those costs. On the other end of the age spectrum, Beck says, the automakers and union representatives need to consider a wage-and-benefit package that will attract the next generation of workers.

Still, he says he doesn't expects this summer's discussions to get too heated.

"They have a very, very important relationship," Beck said. And the negotiations will help determine the future viability of the Big Three.

That said, he cautions against expecting all of the automakers problems to be fixed in one contract.

"I think it's critical but the best thing to do is to wait and watch," Beck said.

Karl Struble will be watching -- wondering whether the negotiations will affect his income, his healthcare and his retirement.

"After 30 years, I should be able to go," he said. "That might not happen."

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