NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

At UAW convention, hopes for unity high

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At UAW convention, hopes for unity high

Concessions a strain on membership

BY BRENT SNAVELY

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Many of the delegates and attendees who arrived in Detroit for the UAW's 35th Constitutional Convention on Sunday said they are hoping that the four-day event will re-energize and unify a union that has been battered by job losses, plant closures and concessions in recent years.

"With everything that is going on, I think we need to pull together," said Joan Biebel, a member of UAW Local 174 in Romulus, which represents employees of Tower Automotive. "We need to come together and stand up for what's right, even though we have these times that are so tough."

Biebel is among 1,400 UAW members who will attend the union's convention at Cobo Center, where the union will elect its next president, other officers and regional directors to a four-year term.

"I hope that everybody stays united, because the more united you are, the stronger you are," said Sheila Radloff, a retired UAW International staff member.

But the unity that Biebel and Radloff are striving for is under stress because of numerous concessions that members and retirees have had to accept during the last five years as the domestic automotive industry went through a dramatic crisis.

During a media reception late Sunday, on the eve of his farewell speech, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said he felt that the union was unfairly blamed for automakers' problems when they needed federal loans to stay afloat after a global economic meltdown. He also said the union has not been given as much credit as it deserves for helping automakers survive.

"We became the easy target," Gettelfinger said. "But again, we did what we needed to do to save the auto industry and preserve jobs."

Earlier Sunday, two rallies were attended by a total of about 100 retirees and union activists. In the first one, retirees endorsed a universal health care bill backed by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.

In the second rally, union activists pressed the union to take a harder stance on health care reform and in future contract negotiations, where some are hopeful that the union can get back some of what it lost in recent years.

That includes jobs.

According to the UAW's latest annual report, the UAW had 355,191 members at the end of 2009, a loss of 75,846 members, or 18%, from the end of 2008 because of job cuts and plant closures at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

Gary Walkowicz, a delegate and bargaining committeeman from UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, said that the union has lost about 1 million members since 1979.

"We have been on our heels for too long," said Walkowicz, who expects to be nominated for president and will challenge UAW Vice President Bob King.

Walkowicz said he is running mostly to send a message to UAW leaders -- not because he thinks he can win. King is endorsed by the UAW's leadership and is likely to be elected, Walkowicz said.

Alan Benchich, a UAW retiree and elected delegate for the convention, was briefly detained, for allegedly distributing leaflets in front of Cobo, said Detroit police Lt. Lewis Ilaseo. Ilaseo said Benchich was advised to join the rally on the other side of Washington Boulevard.

Benchich, who had leaflets under his arm, said he was not distributing them.

"I am a delegate," he said. "I have a right to be here."

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100614/BUSINESS01/6140353/1331/business01/Concessions-strain-membership&template=fullarticle

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CSpec    515

"We need to come together and stand up for what's right, even though we have these times that are so tough."

I presume "what's right" is more pay and benefits while CPI is flat and there are plenty of unemployed blue collar types in the rustbelt who would be happy to undercut the current workers.

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RjION    59

"We need to come together and stand up for what's right, even though we have these times that are so tough."

I presume "what's right" is more pay and benefits while CPI is flat and there are plenty of unemployed blue collar types in the rustbelt who would be happy to undercut the current workers.

Ah hell they should do whats right and go on strike ...........

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