Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hard times not over, UAW chief says

Monday, June 12, 2006
Hard times not over, UAW chief says
Gettelfinger says union will continue to fight wage and benefit cuts, bad management
Scott Burgess / The Detroit News

United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger on Monday said that while the union faces some of the toughest challenges in its history, it will continue to fight wage and benefit cuts, bad corporate management and ineffective government with the same zeal it has throughout its history.

“The truth is we’re facing tough, complex challenges in every sector of our union,” Gettelfinger told about 1,300 delegates attending the UAW’s 34th Constitutional Convention in Las Vegas.

“Everything the UAW has fought for at the bargaining table is under attack by a number of multinational corporations who want to rip up our contracts and impose poverty-level wages on workers.”

The hard times are not over, Gettelfinger said, but he dismissed critics who question whether the UAW has the mettle to survive.

“They think we’ve run out of gas intellectually and emotionally, that we’ve lost our will, our creativity and our nerve,” Gettelfinger said. “Some even question our solidarity. Well, we’ve got news for them. We’re not going to surrender.”

Some of the thorniest issues facing the UAW are in the U.S. auto industry, where the union has in recent years given back hard-won benefits in a bid to help General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group compete in a cutthroat global market.

Foreign automakers including Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., and Nissan Motor Co., are expanding their presence in the United States while continuing to increase their U.S. car and truck sales at the expense of Detroit automakers.

“Like it or not, these are changes that cannot be ridden out,” Gettelfinger said. “They demand new and far-sighted solutions — and we must be an integral part of developing those solutions.”

Gettelfinger, who is expected to be reelected to a second four-year term during the convention, discussed a number of issues during his speech. Some excerpts:

On Delphi Corp.’s bankruptcy:
“In the case of Delphi there is no question this company is using bankruptcy as a perverted business strategy to make certain executives, lawyers and financial advisers wealthy at the expense of workers, investors and creditors.

“With the activism, support and solidarity of our local union leaders and members, and the other unions involved, we are fighting the battle at Delphi on every possible front.”

“Our legal team is second to none and they are defending the interests of Delphi workers, going toe-to-toe with Delphi’s Wall Street attorneys.

“Throughout this entire process, Vice President (Richard) Shoemaker has kept the local union leadership informed and up-to-date on each development through regular meetings and by creating a Delphi Update section on our website for our membership.

“Delphi’s misuse and abuse of the bankruptcy process brings into sharp focus the need to reform this nation’s bankruptcy laws and reform them now. To that end the UAW is pushing for legislation to prevent abuses of the bankruptcy process in the future.”

On President Bush:

“This president has failed, and failed miserably, to attend to urgent business here at home. Meanwhile he has pursued a reckless, go-it-alone foreign policy that led our country into a war in Iraq with no exit strategy.

“Not long ago, President Bush was asked when our troops would start coming home from Iraq. His response? That’s up to the next president.

“Well, we can’t afford to wait until January 2009 to set a new course for America.

“We have a window of opportunity in this year’s elections to put America back on the high road. It will take all of us, working together, to gain back the House and Senate this November. We must grasp this election year with the determination that we can and will make a difference this fall.”

On the UAW’s future:

The skeptics who say this is the “twilight of the UAW” – that we’re “toast” – that our epitaph has already been written -- don’t know who we are and where we came from.

“Our union was born in hard times and built through struggle.”


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