UAW boss not in giveback mode
DETROIT -- United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said the
union is not entering the upcoming contract talks with Detroit
automakers with givebacks in mind and defended the controversial jobs
banks program that provides pay and benefits for laid off workers.
"We're not going into negotiations in a concessionary mode, I'll tell
you that," Gettelfinger said Wednesday after speaking at the NAACP
national convention at Cobo Center.
Asked whether the UAW will fight to keep the jobs bank, which Detroit
automakers have made clear they want to eliminate or modify,
Gettelfinger responded: "That may be what the companies' position is,"
but "we've done a lot with the jobs bank, the companies know that."
Gettelfinger repeatedly told reporters he refuses to negotiate the
contract in the press. The negotiations formally begin July 20 with
Chrysler Group and Ford Motor Co. officials. Talks with General Motors
Corp. kick off July 23.
Gettelfinger accused automakers of using the media to portray the UAW
as entering the talks willing to give deep concessions in pay, retiree
health care and pensions. "Which it appears the media is more than
eager to do," Gettelfinger said.
He argued that the UAW already has made many compromises --
particularly on health care benefits and plant level operating
Detroit automakers already have begun to chip away at the jobs bank.
In May, the UAW cut a deal with GM to clear about 400 skilled trades
workers out of job banks in Flint and Lansing. And through local
agreements and massive buyouts, the Detroit automakers have reduced
the number of workers in jobs banks from 12,000 in 2006 to 4,200
The union also has agreed to changes on health benefits. This month,
the UAW reached a deal with bankrupt auto supplier Dana Corp. that
will transfer retiree health care responsibility and long-term
disability benefits for workers to union-managed voluntary employees'
beneficiary associations, or VEBAs.
Dana would cease providing those benefits and fund the VEBAs, which
are separate trusts, with a payment of about $700 million in cash and
$80 million of stock in the reorganized company.
"That is a precursor to nothing," Gettelfinger said. "This is a
company that was in bankruptcy, and a lot of people were predicting
that we would not get anything in regards to people's health care."
UAW Vice President General Holiefield, who leads the UAW's Chrysler
unit, challenged the notion that this year's talks will be more
difficult than past negotiations.
"They've always been called the worst and we've always managed to get
the job done," said Holiefield, who was at the NAACP event. "I know
that things are tough economically for the company but they also have
very good products. I always tell UAW members that we've always
managed to find a light at the end of the tunnel."
In his speech, Gettelfinger delivered a blistering attack on discount
retailer Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, before
hundreds of enthusiastic NAACP convention attendees.
"The fact that one half of Wal-Mart workers have no health care
coverage speaks volumes about what's wrong with American health care
coverage," Gettelfinger said as the crowd began to rise to its feet.
"It is always low wages that are behind those low prices. We can do
better in America. We can fight to keep good-paying jobs,
manufacturing jobs. We can work together to find a solution to fix a
broken health care system.
"We can hold employers accountable for being part of the problem and
encourage them to become part of the solution," Gettlefinger said as
he strained his voice to speak over the cheering crowd. "Let's stand
up. Let's speak out. Let's take charge. Let's fight together.
"Solidarity. Solidarity. Solidarity forever."