American Axle workers take cuts, hope to fight another day

Three decades of right-wing attacks on the labor and peoples movements have taken their toll but workers continue to fight back, winning some battles and losing others.

After three months out on the picket line, workers at American Axle voted May 22 to accept concessions and go back to work, hoping to save their jobs and their union for what they know will be more and perhaps bigger battles in the future.

American Axle CEO Dick Dauch made it known from the start that he wanted severe pay and benefit cuts in order to keep the company “competitive” and that he didn’t care if the workers had to suffer for it.

His own compensation over the last 10 years to the tune of $257 million and a 9 percent raise he received this year were apparently not seen by him as a problem. Company profits last year were $37 million.

The contract that was ratified slashes the wages of some workers by more than 50 percent, shuts down both the Detroit and Tonawanda, N.Y., forges in a layoff of 300 in Detroit and 470 in Tonowanda, and offers buyouts and buydowns.

For the 2,000 auto union members at Detroit Gear and Axle, production workers will see their wages cut from $28 an hour to $18.50 an hour and “non-production” workers will be cut to $14.35 an hour. The skilled trades will be slashed from $33 an hour to $26 an hour. There are also cuts in vacation time, holidays, shift premiums and break times, and increases in health care contributions.

New production hires will be paid $11.50 per hour and new skilled trade hires will get $22 an hour. These new workers will receive a 50 cent per hour wage hike every 26 weeks until they reach the full senior level pay.

Almost 800 workers at the Three Rivers plant in western Michigan will have their own separate contract with the lowest wages going down to $10 an hour. The company said that without the extra low wages there it would have shut down the plant. American Axle says that through attrition and buyouts it hopes, on top of the layoffs from plant closings, to cut its union work force by an additional 2,000 before the end of the year.

“It’s not a good agreement, but at this juncture it’s the best we could do,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. He said he didn’t think a longer strike would have netted a better agreement.