U.S. Markets close in 3 hrs 17 mins

GM North American labor chief retires ahead of UAW talks

DETROIT, June 10 (Reuters) - General Motors Co said on Wednesday its North American labor chief retired last week, as the No. 1 U.S. automaker prepares to open negotiations with the union representing its U.S. hourly work force.

GM said Rex Blackwell, its 60-year-old North America labor relations vice president, retired on June 1. In April, he had been promoted to lead negotiator for the coming talks over a new contract with the United Auto Workers union.

The news comes a day after GM's smaller rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said its North American labor chief had also retired.

GM said Cathy Clegg, vice president for GM North America manufacturing and labor relations, has assumed Blackwell's responsibilities and given her work with the union over the past few years the transition will be "seamless."

In addition to her manufacturing role, Clegg will lead talks with the UAW, which represents about 49,000 GM hourly workers, GM said. The UAW is the largest of the 41 labor unions GM deals with globally.

GM and Fiat Chrysler are two of the three U.S. automakers that will enter what many expect to be difficult contract talks next month with the UAW, due to the issue of a two-tiered pay and benefit structure for UAW-represented workers.

In 2007, the UAW agreed to a lower pay and benefit scale for newly hired auto workers as all three companies were losing money. After the 2011 round of talks, the automakers began hiring a significant number of new workers at the lower tier of pay and benefits.

Entry-level, or second-tier workers are paid $15.78 to $19.28 per hour, less than the $28 to $28.50 for veteran UAW assembly line workers. The latter also have richer benefits.

UAW President Dennis Williams has said the union wants to "bridge the gap" between the two tiers in the upcoming talks.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Tom Brown)