Friday, June 16, 2006

UAW president overcomes criticism

Thursday, June 15, 2006
UAW president overcomes criticism
Gettelfinger wins 2nd term
Union chief faces falling membership, pay, benefits
Brett Clanton / The Detroit News

LAS VEGAS -- United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger was easily re-elected Wednesday to a second four-year term as the union enters a critical juncture in its 71-year history.

Gettelfinger, 61, was unopposed in the election decided by 1,400 union delegates, despite growing criticism from dissidents who say he has been too quick to grant concessions to Detroit's struggling automakers.

The UAW, at its 34th constitutional convention here this week, also elected six other executive officers, three of whom are to be named as replacements for retiring directors of the union's General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group divisions.

The UAW's leadership team faces a huge challenge in protecting jobs, wages and benefits for members during a historic downsizing of the domestic auto industry.

That task will begin immediately and intensify in the coming year as UAW and Detroit's automakers begin contentious negotiations next summer on a new master labor agreement.

GM and Ford plan to eliminate more than 60,000 union jobs and close plants across the UAW.

Delphi Corp. is planning to ax more than 20,000 jobs and 21 U.S. factories and is pushing the UAW to accept major wage and benefits cuts.

The UAW's membership has fallen from 1.5 million in 1979 to just under 600,000 last year.

Gettelfinger this week pledged to rebuild the UAW through new organizing drives and message campaigns. In a speech this week, he said the union "will not surrender," while acknowledging the union is facing challenges unlike any in its history.

Maurice Davison, a UAW international representative from Indiana's Region 3, said Gettelfinger has his support as he navigates the rough waters. "He's the only man for the job right now," Davison said.

But Gettelfinger could lose the backing of some members if he makes concessions next year in labor contract talks with Detroit automakers and cuts a deal with Delphi, rather than send workers out on the picket line.

In nominating materials for Gettelfinger, handed out Wednesday at the convention, the UAW seemed to be preparing members for some painful moves.

"Ron knows that after all the easy decisions have been made, the real test of leadership is often to make the hard, unpopular decisions that are in the best interests of our active and retired members," it said.

In December, Gettelfinger nominated a handpicked slate of candidates to fill the treasurer's office and five vice president assignments. He renamed Elizabeth Bunn to treasurer, but in keeping with union tradition did not say which departments the vice presidential candidates would oversee.

That announcement is expected today at an official swearing-in ceremony on the last day of the union convention.

The five vice presidential candidates include Region 1A Director James "Jimmy" Settles, Region 3 Director Terry Thurman, administrative assistant General Holiefield, organizing Vice President Bob King and Cal Rapson, vice president of the union's aerospace and agricultural division.

Three of the new vice presidents will replace longtime UAW leaders who are retiring because they exceed the 65-year-old age limit. Richard Shoemaker, 66, vice president of the union's GM department is leaving, along with Ford bargaining chairman Gerald Bantom, 65, and Nate Gooden, 67, chief negotiator with Chrysler.

The other two vice presidents will be assigned to oversee the union's organizing department and aerospace and agricultural division.

Also Wednesday, the UAW elected 11 regional directors. Five of the spots were open after Settles and Thurman moved up to vice president and three directors retired. The other regional directors face re-election every four years.

Nominees picked by the union's internal caucus have carried every election since 1946. Wednesday's vote was no exception.

Though the convention floor was open to nominations for each post, no opponents came forward to challenge the Gettelfinger slate. Most delegates, in fact, wore stickers that read "I'm on Ron's team."

Gettelfinger, a Frenchtown, Ind., native who joined the union in 1964 as a chassis line repairman at Ford's Louisville, Ky., assembly plant, gave no acceptance speech.

After the vote, there was a large receiving line in a ballroom at MGM Grand Hotel that lasted more than two hours.

The process left a bad taste in Wendy Thompson's mouth. The delegate from American Axle & Manufacturing Inc.'s Detroit Gear and Axle plant complained that the officers are a lock going into the convention, despite a supposedly open and democratic system.

"You have to ask yourself," she said, standing on the balloon-festooned conference floor after the vote, "why even have a convention if it's all decided before we get here."

You can reach Brett Clanton at (313) 222-2612 or


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