As UAW contract negotiations commenced Friday Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda offered an opening statement of sorts: "We can no longer afford to do business as usual."
If that's the position all three automakers take during negotiations, UAW Local 652 President Chris "Tiny" Sherwood says they're in for a long set of talks.
"I don't think it's going to be an easy one."
Likely to be at the head of the discussions is health care. More than 180,000 employees and 540,000 retirees and their spouses between the "Big 3" rely on the automakers for their insurance and benefits. But automakers say those expenses have grown greater than they can handle.
GM wants to trim down their per-worker labor costs from $73 an hour to $48 an hour.
"A main bone of contention for us is wondering if they're going to make us dip into our pockets," Sherwood says, "or if they'll finally have a payback and not make us dip into our own pockets."
Other things that may be on the table, especially for GM, include downsizing or changing the jobs bank and potentially eliminating free legal services for the autoworkers. A two-tiered wage scale could also be discussed.
With contentious contract discussions about to be underway, there's already talk, of course, of autoworkers strikes.
Sherwood says the union has put in votes for a strike if it were to become necessary, but he says that's not a possibility right now. He says they'll willing to "work things out"-- a simple way to describe a long road ahead.