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UAW Taking Aim at Toyota

New union chief sets organizing import leader as top priority.

by on Jun.18, 2010

As he takes over from Ron Gettelfinger (l), new UAW head King turns up the heat on Toyota.

Bob King, the newly-elected president of the United Auto Workers, is vowing to take on Toyota on multiple fronts and accused the Japanese auto giant of deliberately abandoning unionized workers in California.

One of the top priorities for the UAW is organizing the rest of the growing Toyota manufacturing network in the U.S.  Until now, the only facility represented by the union was the NUMMI plant, near San Francisco, which Toyota decided to close after the break-up of its joint venture with General Motors.

“We’re not going to wait” for proposed legislation that could impact organizing efforts, said King, who was chosen by UAW leaders during their national convention, this week.  In a fiery speech in which he vowed to return the union to its roots, the UAW President declared, “We’re going to whatever is necessary to ensure that Toyota abandons its anti-union efforts.”

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King invoked the legendary Walter Reuther, who led the union for 24 year until his sudden death in 1970, telling UAW leaders, “We’re all in this together.  We will fight for reform. But let us remember the UAW of the 1930s and 1940s didn’t wait on government legislation. The strike that changed the world, the Flint sit-down strike, was illegal,” said King, referring to the long confrontation with General Motors that effectively created the modern UAW.


Bob King Elected UAW President

Show down at Ford Motor Coming?

by on Jun.16, 2010

Bob King, incoming UAW president, inherits a union that is less than a quarter of its size three decades ago.

A tired looking Bob King was overwhelmingly elected to succeed Ron Gettlefinger as president of the troubled union.

Gettlefinger retired after two terms, which saw the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler and an unprecedented  downsizing of union jobs.

King prevailed in a roll call vote against challenger Gary Walkowicz, 61, a Local 600 bargaining committee member at Ford Motor Co.’s Dearborn Truck Plant.

The 63-year-old King, has been a UAW vice president since 1998 and headed the UAW’s National Ford Department since 2006. He played a major role in both the UAW Ford 2007 National Agreement and the 2009 modifications to the agreement, which is now a source of contention among members.

Delegates also elected by acclamation UAW Region 4 Director Dennis Williams to the post of secretary-treasurer, the union’s number two post.  He succeeds retiring UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn.

Williams was elected director of UAW Region 4 at a special convention in 2001 and re-elected in 2002 and 2006 at the UAW Constitutional Conventions in Las Vegas. Region 4 includes Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Convention delegates re-elected by acclamation incumbent UAW vice presidents James Settles Jr., and General Holiefield, as well as new vice presidents Joe Ashton and Cindy Estrada. Ashton is director of UAW Region 9, which covers western and central New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Estrada is director of the union*s National Organizing Department. She becomes the union*s first Latina vice president.

Also by acclamation delegates elected UAW 863 President Phyllis Blust to serve a six-year term as an International trustee. She fills the position vacated by Tito Sanchez.

New UAW Leaders Facing Loss of Clout

“We’ve had our share of disappointments.”

by on Jun.14, 2010

“We’ve had our share of disappointments," acknowledged UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, as union leaders prepared to elect his successor.

The United Auto Workers Union will select new leaders this week as it holds its 35th Constitutional Convention in Detroit as it struggles with a sharp decline  in membership, a battered public image and fading clout at the bargaining table.

“It’s a union that has a glorious history,” said Mike Smith, chief archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University said Monday.  But one whose future is anything but certain.

What is clear is that the new leadership team will be trying to halt the steady erosion of both the union’s clout and the gains made its membership since the UAW was born out of the sit-down strikes that helped organize General Motors more than 70 years ago.

Ron Gettelfinger, the union’s outgoing president,  has faced some of the most serious challenges to confront the union since those early days.

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“We’ve had our share of disappointments and setbacks,” said Gettelfinger, but, he quickly added, “we have also had major victories. Workers at Tenneco have been on strike for over five years and we have three additional strikes under way. We saw the impact of downsizing and the pain associated with the Peterbilt, NUMMI and other closings,” Gettelfinger said.


Detroit Adding More Jobs, Says UAW’s Gettelfinger

Union boss delivers strong praise for domestic makers.

by on May.24, 2010

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger is taking a more proactive role in dealing with the Detroit Three.

United Auto Workers Union President Ron Gettelfinger sees more new jobs in the U.S. auto industry as the nation begins its slow economic recovery and praises the current Chief Executives of the Domestic car and truck manufacturers.

Speaking to the Birmingham Senior Mens Club the outgoing head of the UAW said the Big Three are focused on product and committed to growing manufacturing in America.  His comments were surprisingly upbeat and positive about industry management – a sharp contrast with the many past rebukes delivered by the union.

Regarding the domestic manufacturers, Gettelfinger called the Ford Motor Company team assembled by Chairman Bill Ford and President and CEO Allen Mullaly “second to none.”

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Gettelfinger said General Motors CEO Ed Whittaker is progressive and committed to growth in the US.  He cited the decision to build the Chevrolet Volt, an extended-range eletric vehicle, and the establishment of a factory to build batteries in Michigan as a major plus for the state and the nation.


UAW Membership at Lowest Level Since WWII

Declining membership complicated by financial problems.

by on Mar.31, 2010

Bob King, the incoming president of the UAW, will inherit a union that is now less than a quarter of its size 31 years ago.

Membership in the increasingly troubled United Auto Workers Union has dropped to its lowest level since the end of World War II, even as the union struggles to deal with worsening financial problems.

The UAW lost some 76,000 members just between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010, according to reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The union finished fiscal 2009 with 355,000 active members, the union report said, less than a quarter of the 1979 peak, when the UAW’s dues-paying ranks topped 1.5 million.

The decline in membership is only part of the Detroit-based labor organization’s problems.  It ran $2 million over budget, last year.  Meanwhile, disgruntled UAW members recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards, charging top union officials with using their offices to give friends and family members jobs.


King to be King, er, President of UAW

Gettelfinger’s top lieutenant gets nod as new head.

by on Dec.16, 2009

Bob King, Vice President, UAW Ford Department

The defeat of proposed contract changes by Ford workers this fall was blamed on mixed messages from boastful Ford executives.

After a secretive conclave in Detroit, Bob King, a well-known figure around the Detroit Three auto industry has secured the nod of a majority of the executive board of  United Auto Workers union during a member’s only caucus to become the next president.

King, 63, has served as current president Ron Gettelfinger’s top lieutenant in recent years. He also has handled several rounds of delicate negotiations with the Ford Motor Company as the union navigated the big downturn in the U.S. auto industry and the big concessions demanded from the union.

Harley Shaiken, a University of California-Berkley labor expert, said King had emerged as the logical choice to succeed Gettlefinger.

The defeat of a series of proposed contract changes by Ford workers this fall was blamed on the mixed messages flowing from Ford executives rather than King’s handling of the contract proposals. Ford executives were touting the company’s comeback at the same time they were demanding new concessions from workers. Not surprisingly, union dissidents successfully exploited the fact the company appeared to be speaking out of both sides of its mouth.

Gettlefinger won’t officially relinquish the union’s presidency at the UAW’s next convention in June, but King is expected to play a more active role as a union spokesperson.

Critics maintain that the union has been too passive in public relations matters as the American middle class continues to be decimated as job losses grow during the ongoing Great Recession, the longest and deepest in post-war history.



King’s nomination by the “Administration Caucus” also underscored the relatively secretive process by which the union selects its top officers.


UAW Ratifies Revised GM Contract

Modifications to the GM-UAW 2007 National Labor Agreement are said to eliminate the competitive gap with import plants.

by on May.29, 2009

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger

The modified agreement includes the cost and cash savings.

GM employees represented by the United Auto Workers Union have ratified the modifications to their National Labor Agreement. The amended agreement covers approximately 54,000 hourly employees located in 46 U.S. facilities.

“The leadership demonstrated by UAW president Ron Gettelfinger and UAW vice president Cal Rapson, and the hard work from the members of the GM and UAW negotiating teams, resulted in an innovative agreement that will enable GM to be fully competitive and has eliminated the gap with our competitors,” said Diana Tremblay, vice president of GM’s Labor Relations.

“We very much appreciate the support of our employees and retirees. Their shared sacrifices will enable GM to become a stronger, more viable company that will continue to deliver world-class cars and trucks.”

The modified agreement includes the cost and cash savings in the current version of the GM Viability Plan. GM claims this will enable the company to eliminate the wage and benefit gap with its competitors. It also includes changes to the agreements regarding the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) trust for retiree healthcare. The agreement also confirms GM’s plan to use an idled assembly and stamping facility for future production of a compact/small car in the United States to meet future fuel efficiency regulations.

UAW Vote on Revised GM Contract Proceeding

Asian imports are not directly addressed in the agreement.

by on May.28, 2009

UAW Vice President Cal Rapson, photo: Rebecca Cook

Union protests appear to have stymied, for the moment anyway, GM's plans to import large numbers of cars from abroad.

Members of the United Auto Workers Union are expected to vote to accept more concessions as part of revised contract with General Motors Corporation, including a ban on strikes until 2015. GM needs the concessions to survive and the union has no choice but to give them, observed one local union leader. “Ron Gettelfinger and Cal Rapson did about as well as they could do,” he added.

UAW local union leadership representing UAW members at General Motors facilities across the country voted unanimously on  Tuesday to recommend for ratification a new settlement agreement that modifies the 2007 UAW-GM National Agreement as well as changes to the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association trust for retiree health care.

As usual, the UAW is not releasing details of the agreement until after the vote is completed later this week. The agreement reduces the number of skilled trade classifications – long a point of contention inside GM plants – to just three for electrical, mechanical and tool and die trades. The sweeping consolidation of skilled trade classifications had long been sought, unsuccessfully, by GM’s management.

While not part of the latest contract, union protests appear to have stymied, for the moment anyway, GM’s plans to import large numbers of cars from abroad. The new GM plan outlined for UAW officials this week also increases the chance that of the four additional assembly plants GM was planning to close, at least three will now be retooled for new products previously slated for GM factories in other countries. The shift came on the heels of intense lobbying blitz by the union that put pressure on GM, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Obama Administration.

GM assembly plants in Orion Township and in Pontiac, Michigan have been on a speculative list of plants targeted for closing, along with GM plants in Wilmington, Delaware, Spring Hill, Tennessee and Shreveport, Louisiana. In fact, union officials in Tennessee last week had publicly pronounced the former Saturn plant Spring Hill plant as good as closed.    (more…)

GM Unlikely To Reach Deal with Bondholders before the Dept for Equity Swap Deadline

Bankruptcy closer to reality for a second U.S. automaker.

by on May.19, 2009

President Barack Obama and President Barack Obama shakes hands with GM President Fritz Henderson, AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The dispute over GM exporting jobs is shaping up to become a major political headache for the Obama Administration, with its claims to be promoting policies that will create American jobs.

General Motors Corporation late today filed a prospectus supplement with the Securities and Exchange Commission about its exchange offers for $27 billion of its unsecured public notes and the related consent solicitations that began on April 27, 2009.

In plain English, the filed supplement says that as of today GM has not reached agreements with its bondholders about a debt-for-equity swap — and it is unlikely to do so before the midnight May 26, 2009 expiration date.

Since the swap is a key element in its revised “viability plan” bankruptcy appears certain. The bondholder deal is necessary to obtain the agreement of the U.S. Treasury Department for further financing. It is also needed for the United Auto Workers Union and the VEBA-settlement class representative to accept GM stock for cash payments due. Bondholders, as they did in the case of the now bankrupt Chrysler LLC, are not cooperating. And the UAW is taking a hard line over other aspects of the plan.

Ron Gettelfinger, president of the UAW, spent the afternoon at the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. While not commenting directly on what the issues concerning the union are, Gettelfinger went public over the weekend with at least one of them by releasing a letter to members of Congress that complained about the doubling of imports by GM from non-union and restricted-trade countries in Asia. The union wants job guarantees as part of the fragile, controversial deal Treasury is trying to put together to save GM.

Alan Reuther, UAW Legislative Director, wrote Congress that “As the discussions continue concerning the restructuring of General Motors, the UAW wishes to restate our strong opposition to the company’s plan to close 16 manufacturing facilities in the United States, while at the same time dramatically increasing the number of vehicles it will be importing from Mexico, Korea, Japan and China for sale in this country. We urge Members of Congress to join with the UAW in urging the Obama administration to insist, as part of any further government assistance, that GM should be required to maintain the maximum number of jobs in the U.S., instead of outsourcing more production to these other countries.”    (more…)

Chrysler to Shut Down Most Manufacturing Operations While Bankruptcy Proceeds

Production halts this Monday, May 4, and only resumes when the New Chrysler emerges from the court proceedings.

by on Apr.30, 2009

Tom LaSorda, Chrysler Vice Chairman and President, left, and Bob Nardelli, Chairman and CEO, will leave Chrysler.

Tom LaSorda, Chrysler Vice Chairman and President, left, and Bob Nardelli, Chairman and CEO, will leave.

Chrysler LLC today announced that, as a result of the comprehensive restructuring plan agreed to by many of its stakeholders, it has reached an agreement in principle to establish a global strategic alliance with Fiat SpA to form a new company. 

Unfortunately for workers, the company also filed for bankruptcy at a Federal court in New York City. During the bankruptcy proceedings, which are expected to last from 30 to 60 days, most of its manufacturing facilities will be closed. It is only when the New Chrysler emerges from bankruptcy that production will gradually resume. Workers will be eligible for supplemental unemployment benefits, worth about 80% of pay. Some additional plant closings are anticipated.

Chrysler already has a relatively low inventory as a result of previous cutbacks. The decision does not restrict Chrysler’s ability to reopen the plants if buyer demand warrants. Nonetheless, this is a severe blow to suppliers, who are also under pressure from GM’s announcement last week to take its plants down for 90 days.

“Even though total agreement was not possible, I am truly grateful for all that has been sacrificed, on the part of many of Chrysler’s stakeholders to reach an agreement in principle with Fiat,” said CEO and Chairman, Bob Nardelli. “My number one priority has been to preserve Chrysler and the thousands of people who depend on its success. While I am excited about the creation of the global alliance, I am personally disappointed that today Chrysler has filed for Chapter 11. This was not my first choice. “ 

Things didn’t work out so well for Nardelli, as previously predicted, and even though he was singled out for praise by the Administration today. “Chrysler’s management, and in particular, its CEO, Robert Nardelli, have played a positive and constructive role throughout this process,” President Obama said. (more…)