Sept. 18, 2003, 11:43PM

UAW gets last of major contracts Union, Big Three automakers close ranks to battle imports


Associated Press DETROIT -- The United Auto Workers wrapped up tentative labor contracts with the Big Three automakers Thursday and concluded two months of talks in which a common yet unprecedented theme emerged: labor and management sought to take a joint stand against foreign competitors.

"Since the start of these negotiations, one of our goals was to bring this industry together," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said Thursday after the UAW reached terms on tentative four-year contracts with General Motors Corp. and supplier Delphi Corp.

The agreements were announced more than three days after previous labor pacts expired.

The UAW earlier this week reached tentative agreements, also for four years, with Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group and supplier Visteon Corp.

Only sketchy details of the pacts have been disclosed. The UAW appears to have sacrificed generous wage increases that characterized the 1999 deals to maintain nearly cost-free health care. In exchange, according to sources familiar with the talks, the automakers apparently gained flexibility to close or sell plants to better align supply and demand.

The 1999 pacts banned plant closings.

All agreements require ratification by rank-and-file union members, a process that's expected to take place within the next 10 days. The GM pact generally mirrors the others in economic terms, Gettelfinger said, but he declined to discuss details.

In addition to more than 300,000 automotive workers across the country, the contracts affect half a million more retirees and their spouses.

The new contracts were negotiated during an era when the U.S. market share for GM, Ford and the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler is at an all-time low, and foreign automakers continue to expand domestic lineups and capacity.

Gerald Meyers, the former chairman of American Motors Corp. and now a faculty member at the University of Michigan, said the sides, despite having to bargain on complex issues, seemed to have a mutual goal.

"That end is to beat the daylights out of the Japanese," Meyers said.

The combined U.S. market share of the Big Three fell to an all-time monthly low of 57.9 percent in August, while Chrysler was outsold in the domestic market for the first time by Toyota Motor Corp.

GM Chairman Rick Wagoner said he noted a new recognition from both sides about their respective issues.

GM, the world's largest automaker, has 115,000 active UAW workers and 340,000 retirees and spouses. Delphi, which has 30,000 UAW workers, was spun off from GM in 1999, and the automaker remains its biggest customer.

The previous contracts were negotiated in 1999 during the term of Gettelfinger's fiery predecessor, Stephen Yokich, who died shortly after he retired last year.

"Ron Gettelfinger is not your father's labor leader," Meyers said.

"He knows something about business. He's not a firebrand. He's a negotiator. And that's the way you can expect it to be until the Japanese threat subsides -- and it's not going to go away."

Two sources familiar with the deals say they include a $3,000 signing bonus, a lump-sum payment in the second year and wage increases between 2 percent and 3 percent in the third and fourth years. At the end of the second quarter, a UAW-represented assembler earned $25.63 an hour.

The sources said the pacts also include provisions for plant closings or sales.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  Sept. 18, 2003, 11:29PM

Working at Home Safety record a concern for remote-control trains


Reomte-controlled trains aren't just a hobby anymore. The full-sized versions of Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends may be rolling through your neighborhood soon -- minus the engineer in his striped cap.

Thanks to innovations in engineering, engineers are being replaced by a remote-control box that's operated by a switchman who may not be riding in the cab. That means that trains are now chugging through rail yards as well as some some city intersections near industrial plants without a driver at the controls.

The railroads claim remote-control locomotive technology is just as safe as having an engineer in the front controlling the starting, stopping and speed of a locomotive, said Herb Yambra, president and legislative representative of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Division 194 in Houston.

But it takes time for the person walking alongside the tracks to see a problem and then radio back to the person with the controls to stop the train, he said.

It's like sitting in the back seat and directing the driver to stop when a child runs in front of a car, said Yambra. It's a lot faster if the driver just hits the brakes himself.

The new remote-control trains made their debut in Houston earlier this summer, and Yambra said there has already been an accident at the Strang train yard in La Porte, where most of the locally manufactured chemicals are loaded.

On Labor Day, a rail car rolled off one track and hit a string of moving rail cars owned by Union Pacific Railroad, derailing 22 of them, said Yambra. There wasn't anyone in the front to feel the impact and stop the engine, he said.

Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said he wasn't familiar with the accident but based on the description, the Omaha, Neb.-based spokesman said human error was to blame and not technology.

Davis said all the railroads are using the remote-control technology, which was developed in Canada a decade ago and has contributed to a reduction in the number of rail yard accidents there. Union Pacific began phasing in the remote-control technology last year and hopes to have it in place companywide next year.

The number of people injured when a train begins moving as they're hooking up the air line has declined where the remote-control technology is used, Davis said. Now the hooking is done by the same person running the remote control.

Davis argues that it isn't necessary for a person to sit in the cab of a locomotive when trains are switched from one track to another in the rail yard. Nor it is necessary when cars are moved inside a plant or between plants.

Davis said that when a remote-control locomotive goes through a railroad crossing, there is someone controlling a horn who is either sitting in front, standing on a platform or walking alongside the train.

The new technology has boosted productivity and requires fewer workers in the rail yard, he said. The switching engineers are now being shifted to road-engineering jobs.

While the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers contends that engineers have indeed lost jobs because of the new technology, union officers also realize that arguing the need to protect jobs isn't going to garner sympathy from the public.

So it's focusing on the safety aspect of the driverless trains, and so far it appears the public is becoming concerned.

Thirty cities and nine counties -- none in Texas -- have passed resolutions on remote-control trains ranging from an outright ban to the addition of specific safety measures, said Yambra.

He and others in the union hope that the Federal Railroad Administration, which issued guidelines on the remote-control technology in 2001, will take notice of the mounting concern and put more stringent rules and regulations in place.

Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Warren Flatau said the agency is collecting data and observing the safety of the remote-control locomotives and will decide later on whether to make formal rules.

However, he said the agency hasn't reached any final conclusions and, so far, hasn't uncovered evidence showing the remote-control locomotives are less safe. He said there is no plan to expand the technology to main-line tracks such as the tracks between two cities.

But the potential safety problems of the the remote-control trains have caught the attention of Houston Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, who represents a district that includes the East End, downtown, the Third Ward and the Hobby Airport area.

After studying the matter, the city's Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committee asked the city attorney to draft a resolution that would ban the use of remote-control locomotives in Houston, Alvarado said.

A lot of rail lines run through Alvarado's district, and many carry hazardous chemicals.

"I'd feel safer knowing there is a live body operating the train rather than someone with a remote control," she said. "Remote controls are for TVs and stereos."

During the last legislative session, there was also a statewide effort to regulate remote-control locomotives.

State Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, authored a bill to regulate the use of remote-control locomotives, particularly when the trains are carrying hazardous chemicals through public intersections.

The bill didn't pass, but Alvarado hopes that the widespread community efforts to regulate the remote-control trains will force the federal authorities to pay attention.

To voice comments, telephone 713-220-2000 and dial in code 1002. Send e-mail to [email protected].


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  Fri 9/19/2003 8:39 PM

An angry union recently posted a billboard atop its headquarters, strategically located on the Pasadena Freeway for all eastbound drivers to see.

"The sign is about educating everybody up and down the ship channel about what's going on at Lyondell-Citgo (Refinery LP)," said Carey Smith, union representative. "There are cuts in jobs that will affect safety."

Paper-Allied Chemical and Energy International Union Local 4-227 has been fed up with Lyondell-Citgo for some time. In the union's view, the refinery is guilty of showing disrespect to workers and labor representatives.

Positioned between South Shaver and Pasadena Boulevard, the sign parodies Lyondell-Citgo's achievements. It reads: Record profits, record safety performance, record terminations, last in employee appreciation, last in employee morale.

"I have 16 other customers I deal with, and I do not have another company that has fired, suspended or disciplined as many employees as Lyondell-Citgo has," said Jim Lefton, PACE international union representative since 1997. Between 300 and 400 employees at the refinery use the billboard as wallpaper for their computers, representatives said.

Lyondell-Citgo executives refused to respond to the billboard's presence and its claims.

"We've seen the sign on the road, and the company has no reaction to it," said Denise Converse, Lyondell-Citgo spokeswoman.

Union representatives had trouble finding a spot to air its frustrations. They approached three different companies, Clear Channel, Viacom and SignAid, and all three told the union they were not willing to put the ad up.

"They thought it was an attack ad, and Lyondell-Citgo was one of their prime customers," Lefton said. "They weren't willing to take that risk."

The billboard sarcastically lauds the refinery's record safety performance. According to union representatives, Lyondell-Citgo recently celebrated two million man hours without loss of a workday due to an injury.

According to David Taylor, president of Lyondell-Citgo's mobilization committee, the record is "bogus."

"They have a record safety record, there's no doubt, but if you turn in an injury, you will be disciplined," Smith said.

Taylor knows this from personal experience; he was disciplined after reporting an injury. An employee receives a certain number of disciplines before being terminated.

Peer pressure also causes employees to take emergency vacation or sick time to see a doctor instead of reporting an injury to employers, Taylor said, explaining that the company holds contests for pick-up trucks, meals and increased bonuses when safety goals are reached.

The billboard is one of many steps the union has taken and plans to take to let elected officials, Lyondell-Citgo stockholders and the general public know about their concerns. Representatives said they have begun to see slight improvements, especially for employees wanting to take family medical leave.

"But the major problems that we have are still there because the major stumbling blocks to a relationship are still there," Lefton said.

What they truly want is for Citgo executives to meet with the labor council and recognize its concerns. They believe their issues can be resolved if this happens.

Currently, over 300 grievances are awaiting the arbitration process. Taylor said in previous years, a normal number of grievances ranged between 100 and 125.

In recent months, the union has won over 90 percent of the termination arbitrations, causing the refinery's bill to approach $1 million in back payments, representatives said.

Due to the high rate of termination arbitrations, however, minor grievances are being overlooked as the major problems are pushed to the forefront. Employees are approaching the representatives asking why they are paying dues when their issues are not being addressed.

"When you're using the grievance and arbitration process to the extent that we're using it, something is broke," Lefton said.

Keri Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].



 Copyright 2003 HCN