Amid UAW-Detroit 3 negotiations, a call to ‘remember the retirees'

The rallying cry to “remember the retirees” comes up in nearly every bargaining cycle. For those who receive a pension, increasing monthly pay is a key issue this year. Joe Shields, a retiree out of the UAW Local 110, framed the problem as such:

“Everything is going up except your monthly check.”

Both Shields and Brodell have also seen an end to the Christmas bonuses that had previously supplemented their income. The combined hit to their buying power has increasingly strained retirees’ finances.

“We have to make choices: Do I pay the electric bill? Do I pay the gas bill? Do I take less trips in my car?” Brodell said. “I don’t have expendable income to offset the increase in costs.”

The Detroit 3 cast off the future weight of pensions amid the recession in favor of a 401(k) system. Now, it is unlikely that the companies would be willing to increase their burden of monthly payments to retirees, according to Masters. At most, they might be willing to “provide a lump-sum contribution to retirees,” he said.

At the same time, high profits and substantial CEO compensation have become hotly discussed topics this round of negotiations. GM CEO Mary Barra made just over $34 million last year, Ford CEO Jim Farley made over $18 million and Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares made about $26 million.

John Bell said he is a member of Michigan’s Local 594 retiree chapter and believes it is only right that active members and retirees get a bigger slice of the pie.

“I don’t want to cut into profits so much that (the Detroit 3) wind up closing plants and laying folks off,” Bell said. But he said he believes there is enough that “a very substantial chunk of money” could support employees and beef up retiree benefits.

Shields and Brodell are confident that Fain will push for progress on retiree issues in negotiations. Bell is more skeptical about what is actually possible but remains optimistic.

Negotiations start with “dreams on both sides,” Bell said. “And then they narrow it down.”

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