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Ratification next step for 4-year GM-UAW contract

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General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and the UAW shook hands on a four-year contract late Friday, giving GM's rank and file their first pay raises in eight years. While terms of the General Motors-UAW deal weren't immediately disclosed, Reuters reported that 48,500 unionized GM workers would get $5,000 "signing bonuses" and that at least 570 laid-off workers would be re-employed.

Auto workers are glad there was no drama attached to the 2011 negotiations. The UAW is saying, in broad terms, that pensions and health care programs either were improved or remained no worse than they are now.

"You didn't hear anything about any adversarial disagreements at the bargaining table," Tim Shoup, who has worked for General Motors at Flint Truck Assembly for almost 40 years, told the Flint Journal in an interview today.

"It seems like they've cut costs and productivity has improved a lot and there seems to be a greater cooperation between the union and management than there was years back. There seems to be greater give and take."

Settling this contract with the UAW as quickly as possible made sense for General Motors, which is enjoying a financial boon. GM earned $4.7 billion last year, its best annual showing in 11 years. And so far this year the Detroit automaker has turned a $5.7 billion profit. The union and the company both want to keep that momentum going. GM stock closed Friday at $22.61 a share.

Union contracts are still being negotiated with the two other members of the Detroit Three, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat's Chrysler Group. Including GM's crew, there are 112,000 U.S. auto workers from the three American companies who work under the aegis of the UAW. The union's negotiations with GM began in July and concluded in under two months, two days after the old contract was extended.

Auto workers like John Harris remain skittish. Until the details come out, he's going to be nervous about the big picture.

"I hope it's a good (contract for GM workers) for us Ford workers' sake," Ford worker Harris said on a UAW Facebook page in response to the union's announcement that the agreement with General Motors was reached. "Not to mention for the Chrysler brothers and sisters."

Late Friday, GM released a carefully worded statement that praised both sides for providing union workers with job security. But the remarks were vague and avoided specifics.

"We used a creative problem-solving approach to reach an agreement that addresses the needs of employees and positions our business for long-term success,” Cathy Clegg, GM vice president, Labor Relations, said in the statement.

"We worked hard for a contract that recognizes the realities of today’s marketplace, enabling GM to continue to invest in U.S. manufacturing and provide good jobs to thousands of Americans.”

GM has invested more than $5.1 billion and created or retained almost 13,000 jobs in its U.S. manufacturing plants since August 2009, a spokeswoman said. The Associated Press reported this morning that GM has confirmed plans to invest $2 billion more than that in 17 U.S. factories in the next year and a half.

Also in the works is the reopening of an idled Saturn factory in Spring Hill, Tenn., where GM could begin assembling the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain to keep up with hot demand for those models. At minimum, 2,000 new jobs could go to Tennessee and to existing plants in Missouri (Wentzville) and suburban Detroit (Warren and Romulus), Gannett newspapers in Detroit and Nashville reported today on their Web sites. GM is already adding 500 new jobs to Spring Hill's engine assembly section, which is separate from the shuttered auto assembly plant.


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