As leaders for the United Auto Workers gather in Detroit for their Special Convention on Collective Bargaining to work out the negotiating stance for this year's new labor agreements with the Detroit 3 automakers, what they most want to do is figure out how to eliminate the two-tier wage scale. However, the lower Tier 2 wage has allowed the domestic automakers to reduce their labor costs, hire more workers, and compete better with their import competition. As it stands, per-hour labor rates including benefits are $58 at General Motors, $57 at Ford, and $48 at Fiat-Chrysler – a reflection of FCA's much greater number of Tier 2 workers.

The Center for Automotive Research released a study of labor rates (including benefits) that put numbers to what the imports pay: Mercedes-Benz pays the most, at an average of $65 per hour, Volkswagen pays the least, at $38 per hour, and BMW is just a hair above that at $39 per hour. Among the Detroit competitors, Honda workers earn an average of $49 per hour, at Toyota it's $48 per hour, Nissan is $42 per hour, and Hyundai-Kia pays $41 per hour. The lower import wages are aided by their greater use of temporary workers compared to the domestics. Automotive News says the ten-dollar gap between those foreign camakers and the domestics turns out to about an extra $250 per car in labor, which adds up quickly when you're pumping out many millions of cars.

That $250-per-car number is one that, come negotiating time, the Detroit 3 will want to reduce, as the UAW is trying to raise both Tier 1 and Tier 2 wages. Another wrinkle is that the domestic carmakers are considering the wide adoption of a third wage level lower than Tier 2. Some workers who do minor tasks like assembling parts trays kits and battery packs already make less than Tier 2, but the UAW will be quite wary about cementing yet another wage scale at the bottom of the system while it's trying to fight a bigger battle at the top.

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