DETROIT — UAW President Ray Curry said restoring the cost-of-living adjustment for the Detroit 3 workers it represents will be among the union’s top priorities in this year’s contract negotiations.
Curry, speaking to reporters Monday at a Ford battery plant announcement, said bringing back the automatic COLA raises that the union gave up ahead of the Great Recession is one of the top requests from members in resolutions being sent to the International Executive Board as the UAW develops its bargaining priorities. UAW-represented John Deere workers were able to restore the COLA to their most recent contract in late 2021 after a strike.
“We keep hearing about it repeatedly,” Curry said. “If we’re in inflationary times, it adjusts and makes sure [workers] have some type of benefit that moves their base wage in conjunction with what’s happening in the economy. It can be a good piece for us.”
Curry said he doesn’t believe General Motors, Ford or Stellantis intend to close any plants during the upcoming contract cycle and still hopes to negotiate a future for the Jeep plant in Belvidere, Ill., which Stellantis plans to indefinitely idle at the end of this month, before formal talks begin around Labor Day.
“We don’t want to see it become something that’s part of the negotiations,” he said. “We want to see it as something that’s owed to the community for a plant that was built back in ’65.”
Both GM and Ford have indicated they intend to ramp up cost-cutting efforts this year, but Curry said his bargaining teams intend to remind the automakers they’ve had highly profitable years despite the coronavirus pandemic, microchip shortage and other challenges.
“They still met the mark and increased profits,” he said. “We believe the conversations can be good and address the real demands our memberships are putting in.”
Curry, however, might no longer be in charge of the union by the time talks begin. He faces a runoff election in his bid to be reelected as president that will be decided in the coming weeks.
He said he’s “expecting to continue leading the organization.”
If Curry is reelected, he’ll have a divided executive board with a number of reform-minded members who managed to unseat veteran union leaders. Margaret Mock, the newly elected secretary-treasurer, is actively campaigning against Curry.
“Since I was sworn in this past December, it has become even clearer to me how important it is that we elect a new president,” Mock said in a statement released Monday by the campaign of Curry’s challenger, Shawn Fain. “The president has the final say over staff appointments. And let me tell you, the current leadership is improperly putting all kinds of people in — and not based on their qualifications.”
Curry on Monday said he can still effectively work with a divided board.
“We want to represent the membership regardless of who’s sitting beside me in the board room,” he said. “Regardless of what their political thoughts might be outside that room, inside that room it’s for the 1.1 million active and retired members. That’s our key goal.”