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U.S. union chief voices optimism about deal w/GM

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Reuters / September 08, 2005 DETROIT -- The head of the United Auto Workers said on Thursday he was optimistic about reaching a negotiated settlement of General Motors' demands for cuts in union health-care and other benefits. But Ron Gettelfinger, president of the UAW, also said GM had more problems than health care and warned that the union may not be able to help "stabilize" the situation at the troubled automaker. "The UAW understands that health-care costs are a problem, not just for General Motors, but for every other American employer," Gettelfinger said in a speech to Detroit area business leaders. "We are willing to continue to work with General Motors within the framework of our national agreement to reduce costs in health care and other areas. We're optimistic that we can find ways to do that," he added. It was thought to be the first time, at least in public, that Gettelfinger has spoken of optimism about talks GM began with the UAW in April to slash some of the union benefits that it blames for hurting its ability to compete with Asian rivals. Gettelfinger stressed that any benefit cuts would be made within the confines of the UAW's existing labor contract with GM, however, meaning that they could fall short of the sweeping concessions the automaker has said it needs to restore its North American operations to profitability. The world's largest automaker, which lost $2.5 billion in North America during the first half of 2005, expects its health-care costs to total nearly $6 billion this year. The UAW is a longstanding advocate of national health care. And Gettelfinger reiterated his union's repeated calls for some form of national health insurance in his speech. Efforts to shift skyrocketing medical costs onto the backs of workers were not the solution to a mounting national crisis, he said. Taking aim specifically at GM, however, he added that it faced a whole litany of problems that had nothing to do with the benefits enjoyed by its UAW-protected hourly workers. "There are some journalists and pundits that make it seem like health-care costs are General Motors only problem. But we don't think it's that simple," Gettefinger said. "Health-care costs alone, for that matter, total labor costs, don't explain GM's (U.S.) market share falling from 41 percent in 1985 to just over 25 percent today," he said. He added that decisions made by GM management over the years, about key issues such as product development and design and marketing, were also factors behind the poor state the company has found itself in. He also cited "bad U.S. trade policy," an apparent reference to the lack of more U.S. barriers to automotive imports from overseas. GM has said its health-care costs work out to about $1,500 per every vehicle it builds and sells in North America, a burden far and above anything it foreign rivals carry. But Gettelfinger said the UAW has worked closely with GM in reining in its health-care costs in the past and credited the union with helping to ensure that GM -- the largest private provider of health care in the United States -- has medical costs that have "increased at a rate below the national average." The UAW said in July that it had hired a team of outside advisers led by New York-based investment bank Lazard Ltd. to examine the company's finances. Gettelfinger said the financial review process was still under way but suggested, in remarks to reporters, that he has no doubt GM faces serious financial difficulties. "Whether or not we can stabilize a situation (at GM) that's deteriorating I'm not sure. We'll just have to wait and see," he said. He gave no deadline for any final agreement with GM, however, and seemed to play down any sense of urgency. "They've got a huge cash reserve," Gettelfinger told reporters. "We have not jumped off a cliff here. We've made that clear from day one."
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AND HERE IT IS!!!!!! "The UAW says it will pay $5 more per presciption and that should be more than adequate to cure GM of it's problems" LOL You know, just like they did with the new contract.
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