Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Major changes on the horizon for UAW's leadership

Major changes on the horizon for UAW's leadership

Sunday, June 04, 2006
By Todd Seibt • 810.766.6315

GENESEE COUNTY - A huge wave of leadership changes looms this month at the International UAW, and one big ripple will hit as close as 1940 W. Atherton Road in Flint.

That's where a relatively small brick building, UAW Region 1-C, houses the most powerful union official in mid-Michigan: Bob Roth, the regional director.

Roth, who serves on the executive board of the International UAW, is retiring. Duane Zuckschwerdt, the assistant regional director, is up for election as his replacement during the UAW's constitutional convention, which starts June 12 in Las Vegas.

The two men are one part of much bigger moves and forces acting on one of the nation's most powerful unions.

Roth is one of three regional leaders retiring, along with three UAW vice presidents, including long-serving Richard Shoemaker, the union's point man for dealings with General Motors and the bankrupt Delphi Corp.

Also leaving are the vice presidents in charge of the Ford and DaimlerChrysler departments.

All three vice presidents are leaving under a union rule that requires their retirement at age 65.

The moves mean huge ripples through the union as new regional directors and assistant directors are promoted to fill the leadership vacuum.

Meanwhile, down in the trenches, the UAW stands to lose 20,000-30,000 dues-paying members via a GM buyout plan, and thousands more at Delphi as that troubled parts supplier tries to sort through bankruptcy reorganization with its own buyout deals.

All of that will slice thousands from Genesee County's 15,000 or so GM and Delphi jobs - in a county that once boasted 82,000 GM jobs. GM now reports 119,000 jobs nationally.

Russ Reynolds, president of UAW Local 651 at Delphi Flint East, sized up the changes from the perspective of a staunch, longtime union member - at Ford, Chrysler, GM and, today, Delphi.

"This is the biggest one I've endured in the 39 years that I have been in the UAW," he said. Reynolds is one of scores of elected delegates from Genesee County locals to the convention.

"I go all the way back to Walter Reuther in 1968, and like I say, this is the biggest change of executive staff that I've seen."

The primary purpose of the convention is to elect new leaders, he noted, including the president of the international. Very little controversy is expected over the nominees, including current President Ron Gettelfinger.

And, unlike at a bargaining convention, there aren't likely to be many other issues or controversies that come up, Reynolds said.

For his part, Roth, who has had a triple heart bypass and wears a pacemaker, is retiring before reaching the mandatory age. He plans to enjoy his wife, kids and grandkids and do a little boating.

"I told my doctor to keep me alive until I'm 90, and I'll take it from there," Roth said with a deep, rolling laugh. "He says he's having a hell of a time keeping me going."

Roth started in the Buick foundry, in the former Buick City complex, and never dreamed he would become the UAW's point man in mid-Michigan. At the time, the Buick complex employed 20,000 or more workers.

"My goal was never to be assistant director, to be director, to be on staff," Roth said.

But he continually moved up through the ranks.

He's seen GM as the top dog in the industry, ruling market share and essentially building whatever it saw fit.

And he's seen it as a kicked dog, playing catch-up to more nimble, nonunion foreign automakers.

Those lost jobs have left the biggest impression, he said.

"The plant closings, the loss of jobs, especially in Genesee County (have hurt). We've lost a lot of high-paying GM jobs."

"It's the global economy. We're shrinking. We are absolutely in competition with folks that can do the job at a fourth of the hourly rate."

For that, Roth largely blames free trade policies and politicians, and the failure of the middle class to join the political fray to battle trends such as offshoring and outsourcing.

At the same time, the region has seen a steady stream of smaller victories, organizing and negotiating contracts with independent parts suppliers and technical, office and professional workers, he noted. Today, for example, the Flint-based region represents 51 UAW locals, including more than 100 contracts.

And Flint, through the efforts of its hourly workers and successes with new, crucial GM work, has moved from the bottom of GM's list toward the top when it comes to new work and new investments.

Roth's replacement, Zuckschwerdt, already has been nominated as regional director. Given the way things usually go at the conventions, his election is almost a lock.

But the future of the UAW and the region is anything but.

Even so, Roth says he's leaving office in good hands and in anything but "doom-and-gloom" shape.

"I am - and I mean this sincerely - cautiously optimistic," Roth said. "At the end of the day, GM will still be making their profits. But it will be a smaller GM."


©2006 Flint Journal
© 2006 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.

UAW at the crossroads
The UAW's constitutional convention is June 12-16 in Las Vegas. At the convention, delegates will elect three new vice presidents, three new regional directors and myriad other leaders.

All the major departments - General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler - will get new vice presidents. In addition, UAW Region 1-C, which is based in Flint and covers mid-Michigan, will get a new director.

Those new UAW leaders will take the helm of a significantly smaller membership, down to 557,099 in 2005, compared to a high of 1.53 million in 1969.

Nationally, GM is looking to cut 20,000 or more UAW hourly jobs through several buyout plans; Delphi Corp. is seeking to shed thousands of UAW jobs via buyouts or contract-specified "flowbacks" from Delphi jobs to GM jobs. Thousands of the fewer than 15,000 active GM and Delphi workers in Genesee County already have signed up for buyouts.

Sources: UAW, published reports, UAW locals

About Region 1-C

The UAW divides the country into regions, and in Flint and mid-Michigan that region is called 1-C. Some 1-C details:
11: Counties covered by the region.

48,000: Number of active UAW workers covered by the region.

60,000-plus: Number of UAW retirees and surviving spouses in the region.

51: UAW locals in the region.

103: Separate contracts in the region.

Claims to fame: Home of the Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37, which forced General Motors to recognize and bargain with the union. Numerous top UAW leaders came out of the region; numerous top contract bargainers also came or come from here.

Sources: UAW Region 1-C, Journal files


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