U.S. Economic/Financial News
General Motors Threatens Unilateral Cuts
General Motors has warned the UAW that it could act unilaterally to reduce health benefits for UAW retirees, unless the union agrees to cost-cutting concessions before its contract expires in 2007. GM has set a goal of reducing its annual health-care costs by $1 billion in 2005 and another $1 billion in 2006, from a current estimated annual rate of $5.6 billion. The company also aims to reduce its long-term retiree health-care costs by $20 billion from about $77 billion. GM is pressing the UAW to agree to concessions by June 30. GM's U.S. plants will shut down for a two-week summer break from July 4 to July 18.
At a June 9 UAW meeting, the UAW's Richard Shoemaker told UAW officials: "If GM does anything unilaterally, they'll have a very hard time making automobiles in this country." One local UAW President said that Shoemaker "indicated to us if they backed him into a corner [the union] would use what power they have," including a possible strike.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Head Urges Nuclear Buildup
In comments to reporters on May 3 in Miami, where he gave the commencement address at Florida International University, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dr. Nils Diaz stated that the U.S. needs to build 100 nuclear power plants over the next two decades to meet demands for electricity. He proposed that building plants on existing nuclear power plant sites would reduce planning and construction costs, and expedite the process of obtaining permits. Diaz said companies would not have to develop costly new infrastructure, such as roads and connections to the electric grid and water supplies.
Dr. Diaz reminded reporters that the U.S. no longer has the ability to build major equipment for nuclear reactors. "We had large fabrication facilities for pressure vessels and steam generators and major components, and most of those things no longer exist in this country," Diaz stated. For the half dozen nuclear plants that the NRC head expects to be ordered in the next couple of years, many components will have to be imported, he said. Worldwide, he said, production capacity will soon be outstripped by the rising demand for new nuclear plants, so there will have to be ways found to "assure supply."
At a meeting on-going in Paris the week of June 13, Diaz proposed that there should be a multinational mechanism for approving standardized new nuclear plant designs, to cut cost and time, and improve safety. Each country ordering plants would not have to replicate the regulatory process each time, but could buy designs that are standardized, and internationally approved.