UAW chief says union won’t give up

first_imgFord and GM workers approved the deals late last year. Under the agreements, retired autoworkers will start paying monthly contributions, annual deductibles and co-payments for some medical services. They don’t pay such fees now. Hourly workers won’t be required to pay deductibles or monthly contributions, but they will have to contribute some of their future wage increases to a trust for future health care expenses. “Although we did the right thing, and in the right way, it was still the most painful decision I’ve had to make as your president,” Gettelfinger said. He repeated previous calls for a national solution to health care with a single-payer plan. But Bush, he said, “has stood on the sidelines as health care costs soar out of control.” Ford has said it spent about $3.5 billion to cover 550,000 hourly and salaried workers, retirees and dependents last year; GM spent $5.4 billion in 2005 for its 1.1 million employees, retirees and dependents. Gettelfinger, who has come under fire from some workers who say he hasn’t done enough to keep plants open that GM and Ford have slated to close, said the UAW would continue to defend workers at about two dozen targeted plants. But he added that many workers will be able to retire or get buyout packages that will help them move to new jobs. GM and Delphi Corp. last week reached agreement with the union to extend a buyout offer to all Delphi hourly workers. Delphi has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and has asked a federal bankruptcy judge for permission to void its union contracts. The buyouts are a step toward a negotiated settlement of Delphi’s demands for lower wages. The auto parts supplier said the agreement represented “significant progress” in broader negotiations aimed at avoiding a strike. But Gettelfinger said Delphi is using the bankruptcy process “as a perverted business strategy” to enrich executives, lawyers and financial advisers. Gettelfinger also said that President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders are seeking more tax breaks for millionaires at the expense of workers. The United States, he told the convention, has lost more than 3 million manufacturing jobs since Bush took over the White House in 2001. Bush has responded by negotiating the CAFTA trade agreement, and his administration is working on a trade pact with Thailand “that could open the U.S. market to a flood of cheap Thai-built pickup trucks, threatening the jobs of tens of thousands of American workers,” Gettelfinger said. Yet Bush, Gettelfinger said, did nothing to level the playing field for U.S. automakers, saying that they needed to start building “relevant” products. “Whether Mr. Bush realizes it or not, the problem isn’t `relevant’ products, it’s bad policies,” Gettelfinger said. Jerry Kloberdanz, a UAW member who works at an Electrolux plant in Webster City, Iowa, said he realizes the union has great challenges in an era of globalization.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2“We’re not going to surrender. We’re not going to lower our sights, give up our dreams or give up our fight for a better world for our children and grandchildren.” But he cautioned that the union may have to do things differently than it did in the past. With Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., the two companies that employ the most UAW members, facing financial losses and declining market share, Gettelfinger said the union faces tough challenges. “Like it or not, these challenges aren’t the kind that can be ridden out,” he said. “They demand new and farsighted solutions – and we must be an integral part of developing these solutions.” Gettelfinger said the nation’s skyrocketing health care costs are hitting Ford and GM hardest because they have older work forces and a large number of retirees. After analyzing each company’s finances, he said he decided to negotiate to address the companies’ huge retiree health care liabilities and to preserve future benefits. LAS VEGAS – United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger on Monday challenged his union to battle against corporations that declare bankruptcy and export jobs and he singled out the Bush administration as a major political foe. In his speech to about 1,300 delegates at the UAW’s 34th convention at the MGM Grand casino-hotel, Gettelfinger also warned of difficult times ahead as the union fights to preserve a middle-class lifestyle won over the past 70 years. Gettelfinger said some people in management and some industry analysts believe the UAW is not up to the fight. “They think we’ve run out of gas intellectually and emotionally, that we’ve lost our will, our creativity and our nerve. Some even question our solidarity. Well, we’ve got news for them,” he said to a cheering crowd. last_img