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Local union boss on GM talks: 'They're forcing this upon us'

July 1, 2010

The leader of the 650 unionized workers at the General Motors stamping plant in Indianapolis says he did not authorize negotiations over wage cuts meant to entice a potential buyer of the plant, contrary to what another union official said Wednesday.

But negotiations for a new wage contract will proceed anyway, according to Maurice "Mo" Davison, an Indianapolis representative of the International United Auto Workers, which is based on Detroit.

At stake in the middle of the union feud is the future of the GM plant on the west side of the White River. The Detroit-based automaker plans to close the plant in September 2011. Illinois-based JD Norman Industries wants to buy the plant, but only if workers agree to wages and benefits that are about half what they’re receiving now.

Davison told IBJ on Wednesday that Greg Clark, chairman of UAW Local 23 at the GM plant, “requested” that the International UAW negotiate a new labor agreement that local union members could then vote up or down.

But Clark called a news conference Thursday morning at the Local 23 union hall to clarify that he didn't agree to new negotiations because his members already voted a month ago not to do so.

“I won’t come back and ask them to do anything,” Clark recalled saying at a meeting Wednesday at U.S. Rep. Andre Carson’s office, which included Davison, JD Norman founder Justin D. Norman and some of Carson’s staff members. “We stand by the May 26th vote.”

That's when Local 23 members voted overwhelmingly to reject any negotiations with JD Norman, Clark said. According to the UAW constitution, he added, no one, including him, has the authority to go against that vote.

But Davison said that’s not how the meeting played out.

“Greg Clark said he wanted an agreement brought back” for the local members to consider, Davison insisted. “We’re going to honor that request.”

Clark said the pressure on him to allow negotiations to proceed has been intense. Since Local 23’s vote on May 26, he has received a voice message from Gov. Mitch Daniels and a call from Indiana Secretary of Commerce Mitch Roob. Both said jobs at half pay is better than no jobs, Clark said.

Also, Carson has talked to Clark and called the meeting on Wednesday.

“They’re more or less forcing this issue upon us,” said Clark, a 31-year GM veteran. “And we don’t want it.”

The workers at the GM plant accepted a two-tier wage structure in 2007 that pays existing GM workers $29 an hour plus benefits, but starts any new workers at $14.65 an hour, plus benefits.

During an all-employee meeting on June 22, Clark said, Justin D. Norman said he wanted to pay the GM stamping plant workers a total of about $25 an hour in wages and benefits, which is about half what veteran workers like Clark currently receive, all told.

Clark said he and the union members didn’t like that.

“We simply felt right now that we’ve given enough back to GM,” he said, adding, “Enough’s enough.”

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