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DELPHI WORKERS GET MORE TIME TO MULL RETIREMENT

The day of reckoning at Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems has been postponed.

Delphi workers facing a deadline of Friday to retire with a pension from General Motors Corp. now have until Jan. 1 to decide, under a tentative contract with the United Auto Workers.

The deadline could spark a wave of attrition at the Delphi, the region's largest private employer, where nearly 2,000 workers are eligible for retirement. "This (Oct. 1 deadline) was kind of being force-fed to members," said David Kagels, president of UAW Local 686 Unit 1 at Delphi Harrison. The 90-day extension "gives them more time to see what's going on."

The contract is important for the Niagara Frontier economy as well as for workers at Delphi and GM. Delphi's Lockport plant employs 6,100, while GM employs 3,800 at its engine plant in the Town of Tonawanda.

Ford Motor Co., which employs about 2,000 at its Hamburg plant, continues to negotiate with the UAW.

About 40 percent of production workers at Delphi Harrison's parent, Delphi Automotive Systems, are eligible for retirement, the Troy, Mich.-based company has said. Delphi Automotive was spun off by GM this year.

In addition, the adoption of a national agreement, setting wage and benefit rates, may speed the completion of plant negotiations. Local plants are looking at adopting four-year contracts, instead of the usual three-year term, to remain in step with the national agreements, union sources said.

On Wednesday, the UAW announced tentative four-year agreements with Delphi Automotive and with GM, its former parent. Union officials in Western New York said details of the accord will be forthcoming early next week, after meetings in Detroit.

The broad outlines of the GM agreement include:

Raises of 3 percent a year and a signing bonus of $1,350.

Future pension payments increased by as much as 18 percent, depending on years of service.

Transfer rights for Delphi workers to available GM jobs.

The Delphi agreement, its first with the UAW as a separate company, mirrors the GM agreement in terms of wages and major economic elements, Kagels said.

Local 686 officials will have more details of the Delphi agreement after meetings with union officials Friday, he said. Members are set to vote on the contract Tuesday.

Workers who already submitted retirement papers under the Oct. 1 deadline can revoke them to take advantage of the 90-day extension, the union said.

Company and union officials say they don't know how many workers may opt for retirement. At American Axle & Manufacturing Inc., spun off from GM in 1994, about 80 percent of jobs turned over as workers transferred or retired to keep GM pensions. However, Delphi has pledged to maintain pension benefits that are similar to its former parent.

Workers at DaimlerChrysler ratified a UAW pact with similar wage and benefits by 86 percent earlier this week.

The GM and Delphi contracts, if approved by members, will protect the Niagara Frontier economy from jolts but do little to grow it, economists said.

"Ultimately, one has to recognize that many of these jobs are going to be leaving Western New York," said Lawrence Southwick Jr., economist at the University at Buffalo management school.

"This is a mature industry where productivity is increasing, meaning fewer jobs, and there will be attrition," he said.

Industry analysts predict attrition could subtract one in five jobs throughout Delphi and GM over the next few years.

But company representatives have said that Buffalo-area employment depends on new contracts, which could offset attrition.

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