Tuesday, June 15, 2010

UAW fights for workers, Gettelfinger says in farewell speech

DETROIT — United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said Monday that the union will continue to fight for federal card-check legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize, a high priority for the UAW as it continues to lose thousands of members.
In his final speech to the UAW after eight years as president, Gettelfinger also urged members to back union-friendly candidates in the November elections, saying conservative politicians showed their contempt for the UAW last year when they opposed the government's bailout of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.

"They were willing to let the industry collapse in order to destroy us," said Gettelfinger, who got a warm ovation from more than a thousand UAW members attending the union's quadrennial convention.

Otherwise, Gettelfinger said little about his hopes for the future of the 75-year-old union, which will choose a new president this week. Longtime UAW Vice President Bob King is expected to be elected, although he is facing a challenge from workers angry about wage concessions made while Gettelfinger was UAW chief.

Under Gettelfinger, GM, Chrysler and Ford workers agreed to cut wages in half to $14 an hour for new hires and took other pay and benefit cuts. Gettelfinger didn't mention those concessions specifically, but he said the UAW did the best it could during one of the darkest times in its history. He said the union also asked for concessions from its own workers.

"We faced these challenges and charted a course that led our great union down a path to survival," he said. "We are leaner, yes, but stronger, wiser and more determined, as well."

Gary Walkowicz, a Ford Motor Co. worker making a long-shot bid to defeat King, said the union should go on strike to reverse the wage cuts if necessary. He also wants to restore bonuses, cost-of-living increases and other benefits workers agreed to give up during the economic downturn.

"A lot of the workers I talk to feel it's time for that to be undone," he said. But support for Walkowicz appeared weak on the convention floor, as he and his supporters lost a bid to dispense with union business so they could debate concessions and the UAW's strategy.

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