Jun 20, 2005
General Motors and the UAW have opened Act One of a play calculated to persuade workers to take health care concessions. An advance look at the whole play can be seen in last year's Caterpillar negotiations.
In Act One, Caterpillar demanded that workers pay health care premiums, despite Cat's average profits of a billion dollars a year. The UAW seemed to resist. Contract talks dragged on from April to September.
In Act Two, Caterpillar said it had no money left in its retirees' VEBA fund. VEBAs are special tax-sheltered accounts that companies use for paying employee benefits.
Caterpillar then said it would stop paying for retiree health care. It began charging retirees $270 a month for health insurance.
In Act Three, the UAW leaders told the membership they had no choice but to accept a contract full of concessions – concessions the workers had already voted down twice – in order to protect the retirees. It was a moral pressure on workers to protect Cat's many retirees – and the workers who were near retirement.
In Act Four, these concessions passed in January 2005, by a vote the UAW said was 59% in favor.
And in Act Five, Caterpillar announced its profits for 2004 had set an all-time company record.
GM workers need not re-enact this whole play, even though GM has already announced it might drain money out of its VEBA fund. They can write a new script, more to their liking!