UAW, Big Three Begin Talks

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DETROIT: Contract talks between the UAW and Detroit's automakers began Monday with the union seeking company guarantees to protect some 420,000 existing jobs and to create thousands of new ones while the companies are moving to outsource more work. The automakers say they need more labor flexibility to remain competitive with foreign companies that build vehicles in the United States with cheaper non-union labor. TIME Detroit bureau chief William McWhirter reports that unlike past negotiations money will not be a major issue in the talks. "Money is falling out of the companies' pockets, so they can buy their way through labor negotiations," McWhirter says. "The sticking point within the industry right now is outsourcing. The companies are not going to guarantee that they will buy from their own subsidiaries with union membership, unless the parts are competitively priced." Both sides got a peak at that in a 17-day strike this March by workers at a GM brake plant in Dayton, Ohio. The strike virtually shut down GM's North American operations, before GM agreed to hire 400 new workers in exchange for retaining the right to practice outsourcing. McWhirter does not expect a strike in this case because the companies want to avoid shutting down production at a time when sales are booming. "There is plenty of room for the companies to bargain," McWhirter says. "This is more of a long-term strategy for them. They want peace on the labor floor while they make the move to cheaper, nonunion labor. They will slow down the move if they have to." Bargaining is not suspected to begin in earnest until around Labor Day, just before the contract expires on September 14. -->