Gettelfinger UAW Will Seek Worker Approval for Contract Changes

By Staff Report

Jan. 6, 2009

UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said Tuesday, January 6, that the union would seek rank-and-file approval for any changes it makes to labor agreements to help the Detroit Three comply with provisions of the federal bailout.

The UAW’s bargaining team from the General Motors department was scheduled to begin discussing their negotiating strategies Tuesday, Gettelfinger said in an interview with Automotive News. The union’s bargaining teams from Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler will begin meeting later this week, he said.

President George Bush is requiring GM and Chrysler to make cuts to improve their competitiveness as part of emergency loans each receives from the federal government to stave off a cash crisis.

Chrysler and GM have received $4 billion each to date. GM is slated to get an additional $5.4 billion on January 16. GM would get another $4 billion on February 17 if Congress authorizes additional federal loans under the $700 billion banking bailout legislation passed this fall.

The UAW was singled out for more concessions than any of the other stakeholders, including bondholders, dealers and suppliers, Gettelfinger said. The union is willing to help, he said. But the process is being slowed by confusing loan language and the absence of a federal point person or car czar to clarify questions, he said.

The so-called term sheet of the loan calls on the UAW to agree to competitive compensation with the Japanese transplants and more flexible work rules. What’s more, it requires new multibillion-dollar trusts created by the UAW for retiree health care to be half paid with automaker stock instead of cash.

With GM and Chrysler needing those concessions by February, Gettelfinger said UAW staff resources have been stretched thin.

He declined to say what changes the UAW would make to the cost-saving national agreements signed in late 2007. But whatever changes are negotiated, the UAW rank and file would vote on the provisions, he said.

“We’ll sit down and have discussions along the lines of things we could do in the contracts and have that ratified without opening the contracts,” Gettelfinger said.

Any changes made to the voluntary employee beneficiary associations, or VEBAs, also must be approved by a court. The previous retiree trusts were approved by a judge after a class hearing.

Gettelfinger said he expected bondholders, dealers and suppliers also to make sacrifices. But he said he would not let those negotiations stop the UAW from making changes that would help the automakers get their loans.

Filed by David Barkholz of Automotive News, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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