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UAW picks new leader amid concerns about concessions

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UAW picks new leader amid concerns about concessions

Union set to pick new leader at constitutional convention

Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News

Detroit -- The dominant issue for many United Auto Workers members gathered here for the union's constitutional convention, opening today at Cobo Center, is how to regain some pay and fringe benefits they have sacrificed to help Detroit automakers survive.

Along with electing a successor to retiring UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, delegates representing autoworkers across the country may vote on resolutions about economic issues that show how widespread the sentiment is to reverse or nibble away at concessions Gettelfinger made at the bargaining table.

A number of resolutions submitted by UAW locals take aim at contract concessions by demanding, for instance, the right to reopen contracts and seeking the restoration of some benefits.

The frustration seems to have heightened amid signs of growth and recovery at Detroit's Big Three.

Ford Motor Co. made $2 billion in the first three months this year, its fourth consecutive quarter in the black. General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, although still in debt to the federal government, are stronger financially after short bankruptcies last year. GM made $865 million in the first quarter; Chrysler reported an operating profit, which excludes interest and taxes, of $143 million.

"I know my local isn't the only one whose members feel like they have sacrificed all they could," said Enrique Flores Jr., president of UAW Local 276 in Arlington, Texas. "Now that the companies are doing better, we'd like to make sure that everyone, not just management, gets the reward."

Local 276 represents GM workers who build SUVs. The plant was shut for 12 weeks last year due to slow sales and GM's bankruptcy; now workers on two shifts are logging 50- to 60-hour weeks, Flores said.

Gettelfinger's legacy is that he helped save Detroit's auto industry by accepting unprecedented givebacks to make the companies cost-competitive with foreign rivals.

"We did what we needed to do to preserve the auto industry and save jobs," he said Sunday.

The concession fatigue is personified in the long-shot presidential bid of Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committee member at Ford's Dearborn Truck plant.

Walkowicz, 61, admits he has little chance of defeating the frontrunner, UAW Vice President Bob King, who has the endorsement of top union leaders. Still, he hopes to win a spot on the ballot and make a statement against union givebacks.

"It is important that there be at least one person nominated at this convention who clearly stands for a drastic change in policy for our union," Walkowicz said. "Someone who can speak for all those workers who want to put a stop to concessions."

Resolutions by UAW locals set a fiery tone for what some members want back. A resolution by Local 600, which represents Dearborn's Ford Rouge complex, aims to give rank-and-file power to vote on reopening a contract.

Local 961, representing Chrysler workers, demands that no UAW leader has "the right to negotiate a no-strike clause with any company ever."

Chrysler and GM contracts have such clauses.

A resolution by UAW Local 5960, representing GM's Lake Orion plant, wants to renegotiate cost-of-living adjustments.

Seven pages worth of resolutions deal with retiree issues, including a demand to vote on any contract proposal.

At least five proposals reveal deep concerns about shrinking membership and want steps taken to bolster recruiting.

And several proposals share the tone of one filed jointly by Locals 22 and 600 titled "Let's Rebuild Our Fighting Union."

That is a theme that dissident groups like Soldiers for Solidarity emphasized Sunday in a rally outside Cobo Center.

Other UAW local leaders say members hope to restore some losses, including more break time, and push to hire workers to meet increased demand and speed of the assembly line.

Many members want to make sure workers are treated fairly, said Bernie Ricke, president of Local 600.

Still, he said the constitutional convention, the union's highest policy-making body, is not the right forum to hammer out contract points. That should come at the national bargaining convention next year, he said. The UAW's contracts with GM, Ford and Chrysler expire in 2011.

UAW Local 112 President Douglas Rice wants to hear how leaders can change a national trade policy that allows foreign companies to "unfairly dominate" the U.S. auto industry.

Local 112 represents a Chrysler plant in Twinsburg, Ohio, that's closing next week. "Our members are beyond worrying about concessions," Rice said. "Something bigger is happening, and U.S. manufacturing is seriously threatened."

UAW leaders have signaled that they hear the complaints of concession-weary members.

Last month, Gettelfinger said it was a fair question whether new factory hires, whose wages will start at $14 an hour, will be able to afford the vehicles they build.

And King last month accused Ford of violating an understanding about management and labor sharing sacrifices.

In December, Ford restored merit raises, 401(k) matches and college tuition reimbursement to salaried workers.

"None of that, in my view of the contract, should have happened without our membership getting the same thing," King said, noting that Ford workers lost as much as $30,000 a year because of contract adjustments in the past five years. "We had an understanding about equality of sacrifice."

The UAW filed grievances and Ford said it would restore tuition payments for blue-collar workers

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100614/AUTO01/6140341/1148/auto01/UAW-picks-new-leader-amid-concerns-about-concessions#ixzz0qpnXpeYV

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