updated 2/14/2008 4:22:28 PM ET 2008-02-14T21:22:28

United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said Thursday he expects 15,000 to 20,000 General Motors Corp. workers to take the company's latest round of early retirement and buyout offers.

But the estimate is lower than what it would have been in better economic times, he said.

GM is offering buyout or early retirement packages to all 74,000 of its UAW-represented workers.

The company's move won't reduce UAW membership, Gettelfinger said. Under a new contract reached with GM last year, all the workers will have to be replaced, many at about half the wages of current UAW workers.

GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC all are in the midst of offering buyout and early retirement packages to their UAW hourly workers and all three have provisions in their contracts allowing them to replace at least some of the workers with those making far less money.

Gettelfinger said Ford likely will be able to hire second-tier wage workers after its round of buyouts this year, but Chrysler may not be hiring replacement workers.

GM won't say how many workers it hopes to shed or how much it expects the buyouts to cost, but under its new contract with the UAW, it will be able to replace up to 16,000 workers doing non-assembly jobs with new employees who will be paid half the old wage of $28 per hour.

Ford will offer packages to all 54,000 of its hourly workers as it tries to close or sell some former Visteon Corp. parts plants, eliminate workers who are paid most of their salaries while on layoff and then hire the lower-paid workers. Ford officials won't say how many workers they expect to take the packages, but said about 12,000 are eligible for retirement.

Chrysler is trying to cut up to 21,000 of its 45,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs, giving workers on temporary or indefinite layoff up to $100,000 to sever ties with the company.

Offers from the other two vary, but are similar to Chrysler's.

Gettelfinger said the union has not discussed with GM the possible use of pension funds to help struggling parts maker Delphi Corp. emerge from bankruptcy protection.

"We would be very cautious about that," he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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