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Hughes’ Labor Pacts Won’t Change

Times Staff Writer

General Motors and union officials said Thursday that the company’s acquisition of Hughes Aircraft will have little if any impact in the near term on the labor agreements or the company-paid benefit plans covering the 74,000 union and non-union workers at Hughes.

GM officials also said the wage and benefit programs for the 24,000 employees of the existing GM operations that are being combined with Hughes to form a new, independent GM subsidiary won’t be altered.

GM spokesman Don Postma said Thursday that the auto maker doesn’t plan to transfer workers between Hughes and GM’s existing defense and electronics operations, and so the current benefit plans covering both Hughes and GM employees will remain intact.

Union leaders representing Hughes workers also said the $5.2-billion acquisition, announced Wednesday, would not affect either their labor agreements with Hughes or their dealings with management.

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“I don’t anticipate any major changes in the relationship between the company and the union,” said James Whitten, business representative for Local 933 of the International Assn. of Machinists at Hughes’ Tucson missile plant.

A Hughes spokesman agreed, saying that “our understanding is that we will be part of a separate subsidiary from the rest of GM, and so I don’t think we will have to renegotiate our contracts with the unions.” The spokesman noted that the company’s contracts with the machinists in Tucson and with Local 1553 of the Electronic and Space Technicians Union, representing more than 12,000 Hughes workers in the Los Angeles area, include “successor” agreements requiring any company that buys Hughes to honor the firm’s existing labor accords.

But since only about 18% of Hughes’ work force is unionized, the acquisition still could provide an opening for the United Auto Workers, which represents almost all of GM’s blue-collar workers, to begin an organizing push at Hughes.

With members at Rockwell International, McDonnell Douglas, General Dynamics and LTV, the UAW already has a significant presence in both the aerospace and defense industries, and it is looking to further diversify away from its eroding base in the auto sector.

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“I’m certain that the (UAW’s) GM department, organizing department and Region 6"--the union’s Los Angeles-based regional office handling the Western United States--"are going to be desirous of getting Hughes organized,” said Carlton Horner, a UAW organizing coordinator who helped gain union representation for workers at many GM plants in the South and who is now involved in defense and aerospace organizing for the union.

“I’m certain they are going to be looking at the facilities involved in this merger” to find organizing opportunities, he added. “Since we have 99.9% of GM organized, I’m sure we will want to keep it that way.”

Officially, a UAW spokesman in Detroit confirmed only that the union is studying the merger, refusing to comment on whether it might begin an organizing drive at Hughes.

But by avoiding mass transfers and changes in Hughes’ benefit programs, GM apparently hopes to avoid the kind of labor unrest and opportunities for union organization that developed soon after its acquisition of Dallas-based Electronic Data Systems last year.

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Thousands of salaried workers in GM’s data-processing operations were upset when they found out that they were losing some of their pension benefits because they were being transferred to EDS, which had taken over all of GM’s computer and data-processing functions.

Angry that they were being forced to accept EDS’ less comprehensive benefit package, many of GM’s disgruntled data processors turned to the UAW, which soon began an organizing drive among GM white-collar workers in the Detroit area.

GM’s Postma did note that the benefit package at Hughes is likely to change just enough to make its workers eligible for one extra perk: employee discounts on purchases of GM cars.


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