Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Editorial: UAW rightly recognizes concessions coming

June 13, 2006
Editorial: UAW rightly recognizes concessions coming
Health care, retirement deals won't be as rich as in the past

Members of the United Auto Workers who aren't happy to hear that contract changes are coming their way need to take a hard look at reality and accept the fact that future deals won't be as rich as they've traditionally been.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger has, and his message in a report to members Monday at the union's annual convention in Las Vegas was blunt and forthright: The old way doesn't work anymore.

"The challenges we face aren't the kind that can be ridden out," he said. "They're structural challenges, and they require new and farsighted solutions."

Gettelfinger's comments were unusually candid and provide a glimmer of hope for rank-and-file members that survival in the auto industry is possible. But it won't come without concessions.

Health care, retirement and permanent job security are all likely targets and are key areas where change needs to occur. Gettelfinger acknowledged that the union's health care benefits are "unsustainable." UAW givebacks on this issue already approved for Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. are likely just the beginning.

But none of this should come as a surprise.

The domestic automakers' share of the market is about 53 percent and falling. UAW membership is now at about 557,000, down from 1.5 million in the 1960s.

Ford and GM are trimming their work forces by 60,000 employees and desperately trying to fend off significant gains by Asian manufacturers.

Expensive benefits, restrictive work rules and bloated employment numbers thanks to "jobs banks" are untenable, and it appears the union finally is acknowledging these challenges.

Gettelfinger, though quick -- and correct -- to remind delegates that the auto companies bear some of the responsibility for the mess they're all in, must follow through with his calls for internal reform. A more competitive domestic auto industry will follow, and that is the only true long-term security for UAW members and the Big Three.


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