Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

November 19, 2008

GM: Labor costs competitive

(Continued)

The total cost will drop to $62 per hour in 2010 when the linchpin of the contract -- a UAW administered trust fund -- starts paying retiree health care costs.

But that's still $9 more than the $53 per hour that GM estimated Toyota now pays in the U.S., and the gap could be even wider. Toyota spokesman Mike Goss said the company's total labor costs at its older U.S. plants are around $48, with about $30 per hour in wages.

The remaining difference largely is due to "legacy" costs, the cost of a 100-year-old company paying its retiree pensions, Sapienza said.

"While legacy seems to be a dirty word of late, it also means we support hundreds of thousands of people via pensions, health care and good jobs," he said.

There's also the "jobs bank," a feature of the UAW contract that drew fire from senators, in which workers get 95 percent of their base pay and all of their benefits if they are laid off or their plant is closed.

In the past, workers could stay in the jobs bank forever unless they turn down two job offers within 50 miles of their factory. GM's new contract imposes a two-year time limit, and workers are out of the jobs bank if they turn down one job within 50 miles or four jobs anywhere in the country.

GM has about 1,000 workers in the jobs bank now because it's been thinned out by early retirement and buyout offers. At its peak, the jobs bank had 7,000 to 8,000 people, Sapienza said.

To be fair, Toyota also has paid workers whose plants were temporarily closed due to slow demand for their products. Employees attended training during the shutdown.

In addition to jobs bank costs, GM also still pays for some union officials at each factory, and its workers get days off that aren't afforded many U.S. workers, such as Election Day.

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