Workers at the Detroit Three carmakers deserve raises this year, but the United Auto Workers union should also make sure General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler stay competitive, UAW President Dennis Williams said in a recent interview.
"The union wants to sharply narrow the roughly $12-an-hour gap in pay between newly hired and veteran workers, and secure the first increase in hourly base wages for veteran workers in about a decade," Reuters reported after its editorial board spoke to Williams on Thursday in New York.
Williams, 61, came to the UAW last summer. The Marine veteran plans to serve just one four-year term.
It would be an "injustice" if auto workers did not get a raise in contracts this year, Williams told Reuters.
The new round of talks will be crucial both for the UAW and the Detroit Three. The automakers must walk a careful line since they are still recovering from the 2009 disaster. Williams wants the automakers to be profitable in the long-term but has a responsibility to the workers he represents, who want a substantial raise.
"We're ... mature organizations that have been through a hell of a lot together to survive," Williams told Reuters. "None of us want to blow it."
The union will call for a strike if needed. A large-scale walkout for the three automakers has not happened since the 1990s.
The gap between the two tiers in the pay system will be a particularly vital issue in this year's talks. Veteran workers at the Detroit Three make around $28 per hour, compared with an initial $15.78 for entry-level employees, which is capped at $19.28 per hour.
"We've got to be creative," Williams said of potential changes to the two-tier system. "Wages are not the only way to stay competitive. It's about productivity. It's about engineering, it's about a lot of things."