Monday, June 12, 2006

UAW Elections Come at Key Time for Union

UAW Elections Come at Key Time for Union
Friday June 9, 4:11 pm ET
By Tom Krisher, Associated Press Writer

UAW Constitutional Convention Comes at Pivotal Time for Union As Workers Deal With Plant Closures

DETROIT (AP) -- With his truck-making plant slated to close, you'd think that Chris Kimmons would be mad at his union for not doing enough to preserve the 2,350 jobs there. But the president of United Auto Workers Local 919 at the Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in Norfolk, Va., says he has faith in the union's leadership, and he'll support President Ron Gettelfinger at the UAW's constitutional convention next week in Las Vegas.
"I have confidence in the UAW, still have and always will," said Kimmons, who has been to every convention since the late 1970s.

Even with concessions to the auto companies, plant closures and retirees unhappy with increased health care payments, many local union leaders say Gettelfinger should have no trouble winning a second four-year term running the union.

And they say that he's the right person to lead the UAW as it heads into treacherous times that could threaten its existence.

Financially troubled automakers are hiring fewer workers as plants get more productive. Both Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. have announced sweeping restructuring plans that will shave thousands of jobs and shutter plants over the next few years -- moves that will be felt by the UAW.

UAW membership fell from 676,000 active workers in 2002 to just under 599,000 last year, according to the union. That's 1.6 million fewer active members than at the UAW's peak in 1970.

"I think it's very pivotal. I think we're probably at the, you could say, the most critical time for the UAW in our history," said Mike O'Rourke, president of Local 1853 at a Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.

The union also will have to pick three new vice presidents to replace those in charge of negotiations with the domestic Big Three automakers, in the year before negotiations begin on a new contract. Those retiring include: Richard Shoemaker, who is in charge of negotiations with GM; Gerald Bantom, who heads negotiations with Ford; and Nate Gooden, who is in charge of bargaining with DaimlerChrysler.

"There's a lot of knowledge that's leaving us with the retirements that are coming up at the convention," said Jim Hurren, president of Local 467 at a Delphi Corp. plant near Saginaw that the company wants to sell or close. But Hurren and others said well-trained younger members with bargaining experience are in line to take their place.

Shoemaker in particular will leave big shoes to fill because of his storied UAW history and because he's leading negotiations with Delphi, said Russ Reynolds, head of Local 651 at a Delphi plant in Flint.

Delphi wants to close plants and cut wages as it reorganizes under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and Shoemaker is trying to secure buyout packages for its workers. The company has asked a federal bankruptcy judge in New York for permission to scrap its union contracts, but has said it would prefer a negotiated settlement with the UAW and other unions.

Reynolds said the next round of UAW contract negotiations, in 2007, could impact many in the middle class because auto workers set the standard for benefits given in other industries.

"It's going to be very important because this is going to be one of the hardest contracts to face the UAW," Reynolds said.

Gettelfinger is backed by the administrative caucus, a group of union leaders that essentially forms a political party within the UAW. Seldom does anyone run against an incumbent president or executive board candidates picked by the caucus.

UAW spokesman Paul Krell said he knows of no other candidates, but said some could be nominated from the convention floor.

Although his re-election may be assured, Gettelfinger may hear some dissent from rank-and-file members who think more should be done to fight plant shutdowns.

Kimmons, whose Ford F-150 pickup plant is scheduled to be closed in 2008, plans to offer a resolution at the convention demanding that the union fight companies on plant closures and lobby Congress to end foreign trade agreements. The resolution also calls for companies to reopen closed plants, return work that was outsourced to other countries and stop paying overtime at plants making the same products as factories that were closed.

He's not sure if the resolution will gain approval, but said it could get some attention.

"If enough of us get up there and holler plant closures, then Mr. Ron Gettelfinger is going to know we're serious," Kimmons said.

United Auto Workers:


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