GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Sept 28 (Reuters) Gregg Shotwell says that by agreeing to a new contract with General Motors Corp the United Auto Workers has ceased to be a union.
''The UAW is now a corporation,'' he said, sitting on the back porch of his home in a leafy neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Michigan. ''It has become UAW Incorporated.'' Shotwell says he is one of a large number of UAW members angry at the union for the groundbreaking contract it concluded with the top U.S. automaker this week. The pact would shift health-care costs away from the struggling company and create a lower tier of wages for new hires.
Those health-care costs -- if the contract is ratified by GM's 73,000 hourly workers -- would be managed in a UAW-administered trust fund that would have more than $30 billion in cash and other assets.
''There are a lot of people who are disgusted with what they've done,'' Shotwell said.
For GM to capture annual savings of more than $3 billion, a majority of the company's UAW-represented factory workers will have to support the concessionary contract in a series of votes expected to begin next week.
UAW local presidents are meeting with UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and other top negotiators in Detroit on Friday for a briefing on the four-year pact and to decide on the ratification details.
Although analysts expect the contract to be ratified, many will be watching to see how much the rank and file push back against it -- especially with similar deals expected to be in the works at Ford Motor Co and Chrysler LLC.
Paul Schrade, a former UAW regional director, said that by taking on retiree health care, the UAW would be letting GM off the hook and taking the pressure off the corporation to lobby for comprehensive changes to a U.S. health-care system dominated by the private sector.
Todd Jordan, a member of UAW Local 292 in Kokomo, Indiana, asked workers to vote ''no'' in a message on a Web site created by union dissidents, www.futureoftheunion.com.
Jordan compared the tentative agreement with a massive cost-cutting deal Delphi Corp managed to wring out of the UAW while in bankruptcy.
On another dissident Web site, www.soldiersofsolidarity.com, created and run by Shotwell, two prominent banners read ''Vote No Until You Know'' and ''Danger VEBA - Vandalizing Employee Benefits Again.'' VEBA also stands for Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, a cornerstone of the tentative agreement between the union and GM. It would create a trust fund estimated at $35 billion of GM's $50 billion total retiree health-care liability to pay the health-care costs of 540,000 GM pensioners.
Shotwell said he is angry at the UAW leadership for the VEBA, which is expected to exclude new GM hires, leaving those workers with reduced benefits.
''Instead of being an advocate for all workers, the UAW leadership has sold out,'' he said. ''They have represented the interests of a narrow group of people, especially the union officials who will manage the fund.'' Shotwell said there may be enough disgruntled UAW members out there to reject the new contract. He noted that an earlier VEBA, in 2005, was approved by just 60 percent of GM voters.
''It's hard to call the vote either way this time,'' Shotwell said. ''But it will be close.'' REUTERS DKS DB2014