Incoming United Auto Workers President Ronald A. Gettelfinger couldn't be more different from Stephen P. Yokich, his predecessor. Yokich drinks and gambles and is feared in the union as a temperamental man who puts his arm around someone one day only to blast the person in an angry tirade the next. While Gettelfinger can be just as abrasive, he's also a straitlaced, deeply religious man who doesn't smoke, wager, or use alcohol. Raised with 11 siblings on an Indiana farm, he worked at a chicken hatchery as a teenager, married his high school sweetheart, and earned a business degree by taking night classes at Indiana University.
The 57-year-old Gettelfinger hired on at Ford Motor Co.'s (F) Louisville assembly plant in 1964 after a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. As a chassis repairman, he soon became active in the union, rising to local president in 1984 and to regional director for Kentucky and Indiana in 1992. In 1998, he was promoted to vice-president of the UAW's Ford department.
One trait the two men do share is a reputation for tough bargaining. Gettelfinger won member acclaim in 1999 contract talks when he pressured Ford into giving lifetime wages and benefits to hourly workers whose jobs were affected by the 2000 spin-off of the company's parts unit, Visteon Corp. (VC) Even today, Ford will rehire a laid-off Visteon worker or pay until retirement.
Still, Gettelfinger knows he sometimes must bend. Last summer, after Visteon failed to sell two of its three money-losing automotive glass plants, Gettelfinger agreed to cut 235 jobs and let nonunion contractors do maintenance work at them. "Ron understands what has to be done to be competitive," says Visteon human-resources Vice-President Robert H. Marcin.
Gettelfinger is known as a hands-on manager who prizes first-hand knowledge rather than filtered summaries. But some call him a micromanager who has been known to pore over staffers' telephone bills looking for personal calls. Still, a hands-on approach may not be all bad if the UAW has any hope of halting its decades-long decline. By Joann Muller, with David Welch, in Detroit