Monday, January 01, 2007

UAW says merger possible

Friday, December 15, 2006
UAW says merger possible
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers has not ruled out merging with another union, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said Thursday.

The comment came during a question-and-answer session Gettelfinger hosted on the union's Web site,

"The UAW has not ruled out merging with other unions," he wrote in response to a question from a union member.

UAW membership fell to 557,000 in 2005 down from 1.5 million 20 years ago. With General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. offering buyouts to more than 70,000 workers, UAW membership is expected to continue to decline.

Industry experts have speculated about a merger that could give the organization more clout. Union leaders have previously dismissed talk of merging. Gettelfinger's statement on Thursday is a significant shift on the issue, said labor expert Jim Hendricks, with Chicago-based law firm Fisher & Phillips.

"I don't think they have a choice," Hendricks said about the UAW joining with another union. "The UAW has lost 67 percent of the membership they had 20 years ago. You can't keep hemorrhaging members and stay in business."

The UAW has flirted with a merger before. In 1996, then-UAW President Steve Yokich began negotiating with the heads of United Steelworkers and the International Association of Machinists to create an industrial super union with nearly 2 million members.

But those plans fizzled well before the target date of 2000, in part because of the difficulty involved in combining the different union cultures.

Since then, the UAW has worked to extend its reach by adding members outside the core of the auto industry.

In addition to autoworkers, the UAW represents 2,500 mechanics and other workers at 130 auto dealerships, as well as public employees, nurses and legal-service workers.

The UAW got another boost this week when it joined with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to unionize 40,000 Michigan home-based child-care providers.

Gettelfinger touched on a number of topics during the two, hour-long chat sessions.

He said the union intends to keep GM health-care guarantees for Delphi Corp. retirees.

Delphi, GM's former parts making division and its largest supplier, has been in prolonged talks with GM, its unions and creditors.

Delphi has sought court permission to cancel its labor contracts, though hearings on the matter have been delayed to allow the two sides time to negotiate.

Gettelfinger said he has not spoken personally to Delphi Chairman Robert S. "Steve" Miller since May.

He also said dealing with the corporate strategy of forcing plants to compete with one another for work was a key topic of a meeting on Wednesday between UAW Vice President Cal Rapson and union leaders for General Motors Corp. "Strategies were developed with the local leadership to address this issue on an ongoing basis," Gettelfinger said without elaborating.

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313) 223-4686 or

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