UAW will negotiate for higher wages from automakers in 2015

The United Auto Workers union will seek higher wages when its representatives sit down with auto industry executives next year to negotiate a new four-year labor pact, UAW President Dennis Williams said.

Williams said he wants wage gains both for entry-level workers, who make less than veteran auto factory hands, and for older workers in the new contract. In the 2007 labor pact, the UAW agreed to lower wages for starting workers at about half of the full wage of $28 an hour. Entry level workers can now earn about $18 an hour, while pay for older workers has remained unchanged.

Since the emergence of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC from bankruptcy in 2009, GM and Ford Motor Co. have earned billions in profits while Chrysler has become the primary profit source for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which was formed this year. Now Williams wants workers to get a share of the spoils.

“Wages certainly are a major issue in bargaining,” Williams said on a conference call from the union’s Solidarity House headquarters in Detroit. “I often listen to companies talking about being competitive. The only thing they talk about in public is doing it on the backs of workers.”

Since the 2011 agreement, UAW members working for the traditional U.S. automakers get $1,000 of bonus for each billion in North American profits. Still Williams said it is time to revisit wages paid to veteran workers.

“You have to have a strong middle class,” Williams said. “You have to have not just livable wages but strong wages.”

Ford and GM, which operates assembly plants in the Kansas City area, each stressed their track record of working with the union.

“Ford has a longstanding history of working collaboratively with the UAW, which has helped us to add more than 14,000 U.S. hourly manufacturing jobs and invest more than $6.2 billion in our U.S. manufacturing facilities since 2011,” Kristina Adamski, a spokeswoman, said in a statement. “In 2015, we look forward to continuing our strong UAW partnership as well as negotiating a fair and competitive labor agreement.”

GM declined to comment on next year’s negotiations.