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Gettelfinger scores a first-round win for labor

Posted by: David Welch on December 13, 2008

Ron 2.jpg

Note to Senate Republicans: Don’t underestimate United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger. The wily union president’s game of brinksmanship this week paid off. Last Thursday, he refused to give in to Republican demands that his workers take a pay cut next year. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that if the did, other Senate Republicans would clear the way for a bill that would have granted Chrysler and General Motors $14 billion in government loans. That would get them into next year without bankruptcy and let the Obama Administration work out a rescue plan. Bankruptcy would be a disaster for UAW since labor contracts can be rewritten in court.

Gettelfinger didn’t back down. He refused to cut a deal with the same Republican Senators who want his union to fold. And it worked. Instead, the Bush Administration gave in and said it stands ready to assist the carmakers with money from the Treasury Department. It just so happens that they have an extra $15 billion left in the Troubled Asset Relief Program to help Detroit.

Score one big one for Gettelfinger. In a press conference he even pointed out that Corker admitted the age cut was about Republican politics, not about the economics of saving the carmakers. He also didn’t think Corker could deliver the Republican votes to get 60 in the Senate and break a filibuster. Gettelfinger proved an artful player of Washington’s game.

There will still be concessions from the UAW. Either the Treasury Department will ask for them now as a condition for TARP funds or the Obama Administration and next Congress will demand that the union give more to get the next round of loans for the carmakers. But at least Gettelfinger can negotiate them with someone besides a southern Republican caucus that has it in for the UAW. And if Gettelfinger has to make concessions again, he has the political clout to sell it to his membership. After all, he just fought the good fight in the eyes of labor. And he won the first round.

Reader Comments

Paul (Vw)

December 13, 2008 10:01 PM

>>> he just fought the good fight in the eyes of labor. And he won the first round.

Yes...good (and critical) qualification: "in the eyes of labor"

Unfortunately the ultimate losers are not the senate republicans...its the American people (taxpayers). Yes congratulations Mr. Gettelfinger, since Detroit does not make cars competitively nor which anyone particularly cares to buy, you've made the first step in turning Detroit into a massive entitlement program.

We shouldn't celebrate too much, as mediocrity is its own worst punishment. This massive lurch towards socialism does not bode well. Western Europe tried it for 50 years and it was far from a spectacular success.

Well, the one consolation is the low gas prices. I noticed the Toyota FJ looks pretty nice, maybe I'll take the plunge on that (it comes with a manual transmission).


December 14, 2008 12:22 AM

Gettelfinger won the battle that preserved his image as a tough labor negotiator but lost the war. Like a spoil child who couldn't get his treat from tough-love Dad, Gettelfinger played the game of favoritism with Mommy Bush. In the end, the public will see the political manuevering and ultimately turn against the UAW and Gettelfinger for going through the backdoor to get the $15bil taxpayer bailout. The $15billion will ensure GM and Chrysler's survival until late June,2009, based on current cash burn rate and dismal auto sale figures. By July, Gettelfinger will be back before a scorned Senate to which he had spurn publicly and whose enthusiasm for another taxpayer bailout will be akin to a painful root-canal. In conclusion, Gettelfinger is short sighted at best, and self serving at worse. In the bitter end, Gettelfinger has guaranteed GM and Chrysler's bankruptcy by August, 2009 if not sooner.

Robert Wilson

December 14, 2008 4:33 PM

Gettelfinger held off the negotiations until after the money is awarded and all of the other consituents are at the table too. Those negotiations won't be led by Senate Republicans through - they will be UAW GM and there the right thing will get done. The days of the incredible pensions for labor are over if we want to survive and be able to support our families now. It was great while it lasted, but those days must end in order for us to be competitive. The hourly rate is now competitive but the difference is in pension and health care. Salaried employees no longer have any pension to speak of and the UAW will have to join in this structure too. Stabenow said today that the "worker" is the only one that is sacrificing. Apprarently she doesn't know about the 47% reduction in salaried headcount over the last 5 years and the fact that we have taken pay cuts in terms of higher costs for our benefits and we have no pension other than the one that we fund ourselves. It is time to get aligned with the rest of the country.


James Hagenbach

December 14, 2008 5:04 PM

Look at the Japanese Auto Industry to understand the demise of the US Auto Companies--In Japan 11 million cars and trucks are built and 100% are built by Japanese auto companies.

In Japan the Japanese auto makers and government provide the Japanese workers with health care and pensions, but they do not do that for their US workers.

Protectionism and Discrimination-????

Paul (Vw)

December 15, 2008 9:07 AM

Is the UAW popping it's champagne corks too early? This just in ...

>>> The White House was interested in two conditions, the paper said. The first was a steep reduction by creditors in automakers' debt, the second was requiring the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to take half the money due for a retiree health-care trust fund in stock, instead of in bonds or cash.

Aaack! The lame duck White House wants a UAW concession?!?!?!?! Gettelfinger better hold off on his victory lap at least for now.

(This Detroit bill smells worse and worse by the day)


December 15, 2008 5:09 PM

The winner: The UAW

The loser: The U.S.Taxpayer

Belly up to the bar boys. Keep the Detroit fellows fat and happy. hooray!!!


December 16, 2008 9:33 AM

Yes, score one for Gettelfinger. Score zero for the already over taxed, tax payer. Score another zero for the future progress of all Americans who work outside the UAW tent. It was ok for the UAW to let Studebaker, Kaiser, American Motors, Crosley, Hudson and all the other previous American auto makers bite the bullet when the heat got to hot in the kitchen. Just what is the difference now! If not enough folks wants your product, what since does it make for the UAW to force their products on the customer. Ike once said, "you cannot push a string". You just keep beating a dead horse. One day the UAW will get it, but only after its to late. Walmart better watch out for these clowns. They only try to attached themselves to what hot and ride it down till they kill it.


December 17, 2008 10:30 AM

Go to the Global Investment Watch blog to read a good article related to the increasing attacks against labor unions by Republicans ...

GM Daughter

December 17, 2008 12:04 PM

I'm a union member and proud of it. It's not about union members making too much, but about non-union workers who get too little. If the unions didn't win such good wages and benefits for their workers, Honda and Toyota wouldn't be pressured to pay such good wages for their workers, just to keep the unions out. Every worker around the world deserves to earn good wages, not just the ones in Detroit. Instead of building the world up, we have selfish Senators trying to tear Detroit down!

Tax payer

December 18, 2008 12:50 AM

I seen this guy sitting on his rearend with a smile on his face working on a car.(Unions)lol.I being just as skilled and harder worker have to sweat 7 days a week and don't get paid as much as them.What kills me all the Taxes they Take out of my check.I don't complain because i'm blessed to have a job and there is a price to pay for freedom. The point i'm trying to make is Why we have to pay for there wages.If they start being on top of consumer report as the Best cars to have, ill have some consideration.I bought a Honda With my Hard Earned money because its going to last.God knows what i go through to make my money.Im speaking for so many Americans Out there who realy realy work hard.


December 18, 2008 5:31 AM

Gettelfinger held off the negotiations until after the money is awarded and all of the other consituents are at the table too. Those negotiations won't be led by Senate Republicans through - they will be UAW GM and there the right thing will get done. The days of the incredible pensions for labor are over if we want to survive and be able to support our families now. It was great while it lasted, but those days must end in order for us to be competitive


December 18, 2008 7:47 AM

Have any of the geniuses in Detroit or Washington heard of Gresham's Law. It states bad money will always chase out good but that good money cannot chase out bad.

The only people that get this is Cerberus. They own 80% of Chrysler but won't put one dime of their billions into it. Excellent business decision.

The UAW and Detroit management need not worry however because Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have never run anything resembling a business.

They make keep patient alive for a little while but this whole deal is akin to prolonging a terminal patient's life. Ultimately they will die no matter what the doctor (read the congress) does.


December 18, 2008 12:00 PM

I'm not a union member but drive a chevy.

Question 4 all u who feel a UAW "win" is an automatic loss 4 the taxpayer:

Why didn't congress summon the execs fm the wallstreet firms that got 10 TIMES THE BAILOUT (vs the big 3) & insist the entire staff take pay & persion cuts?

Nor were they required to submit detailed recovery plans.

This is a clear double standard.

Alabama Redneck

December 18, 2008 9:45 PM

Everyone wants to blame the labor unions for all the trouble, which is wrong. I have been around some of these workers and took the time to listen to their opinions. I have found what they tell me to be true. The workers are not the reason the auto companies are having the trouble...It is the management decisions that cause the problems. If you purchase a foreign vehicle 95% of your money goes to that country, and not America. On another note..all of the benefits, such as holidays, vacation, pensions, etc... we have as non union workers are because of the labor unions negotiating those benefits first for the people they represent, and the our companies not wanting to have to negotiate with the unions to justify the way we are treated. The big three asked for a loan, not like the banks, and wall street going to the treasury department getting money without any guarantees for repayment what so ever. The big bosses at the big three have raped these companies for years because they are not car guys, they are penny pincher looking for ways to get millions each year for themselves and their chosen 10 thousand or so. Wake up America.. The working people in the plants building these vehicles are hard working men and women just like they were back in the 40's, 50's and so on. Understand Labor Unions before you try and throw them to the dogs. Go to the Library and read up on them, like I did. My Senator Shelby at one time was a Democrat until the Newt Gingrich days. He depended upon the labor unions among other people to get him re elected each time and they worked hard for him. I received an email on the 9-11 disaster where the big three gave over 100 million in support of those in NY needing help, while all the other car manufacturing companies gave $0. nothing. I spent my time servicing this country in the early 70's in the Army. I am offended to see so many Americans who does not care about this country by buying foreign vehicles, and sending their US Dollars overseas..

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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