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King plans cooperation with U.S. automakers

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King plans cooperation with U.S. automakers

But Asian firms are cool to talk of principles



TRAVERSE CITY -- UAW President Bob King's spirit of cooperation outlined in a speech Monday reassured top labor and manufacturing executives for the domestic automakers that the union, which faces contract talks next year, views the automakers as a partner rather than as an adversary

But King's plans to reach out to nonunionized corporations received a less-friendly response from Asian automakers.

During his speech, King repeatedly said the UAW recognizes that the most effective way to preserve jobs is to reach labor agreements with companies that allow them to thrive and build the best products at competitive costs.

"I really liked his contrast to the past and where the UAW needs to go," said Diana Tremblay, vice president of labor relations for General Motors.

King, who was elected president of the 75-year-old union in June, was the first UAW president since 1994 to speak at the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, presented by the Center for Automotive Research.

"The UAW of the 21st Century is a force for innovation," King said. "We are committed to the success of our employers of our partners."

King said the UAW has agreed to contracts in recent years that have cut the average salary of its members by $7,000 to $30,000 and said the restructuring of the U.S. automotive industry caused the loss of 200,000 jobs.

King's cooperative philosophy will be tested next year when the union's four-year contracts with all three domestic automakers expire.

"Without the UAW's support, we would not have been able to make the progress we have made to date," said Scott Garberding, senior vice president of Chrysler.

However, King received a chilly reception from Asian automakers when asked about King's plans to reach out to nonunionized corporations to sign a set of principles promising that neither the union nor company would threaten workers asked to join the union.

"As a company, we don't make decisions like that," said Norm Bafunno, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Indiana. "In terms of representation or no representation, team members make that decision."

The UAW has criticized Toyota for ending production of the Corolla at its plant in Fremont, Calif. The plant, called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., was a joint venture with General Motors.

King declined to identify the companies the UAW intends to approach. He said the union plans to set details this month.

"Nissan has been respecting and protecting the rights of American workers for more than 27 years," the company said in an e-mail, "and we do not believe that third-party interaction would improve upon our process."

King said the decision to propose principles and present them to nonunionized corporations is necessary because of weak labor laws.

"Just like the Flint sit-down strikers didn't wait on the law -- they did what was necessary to get fairness and justice and we will do the same," King said.

The UAW supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which is proposed legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions. But the legislation has faced strong opposition in Congress.

"We will not passively sit and wait for its passage," King said. "We will take direct action now in every way we can to protect all workers in exercising their First Amendment rights."



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