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Outgoing top leaders recap troubled terms

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Outgoing top leaders recap troubled terms



Gov. Jennifer Granholm and UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, fellow travelers on Michigan's trail of tears for the past eight years, took turns Monday delivering lamentations on the troubled times through which both have toiled.

"I'm term-limited, too," Granholm said in the opening speech at the UAW convention, where Gettelfinger's union presidency will end this week after two terms.

"Ron and I came in in the same year and we're going out in the same year and it's been a challenging period of time," she said, "as you all know who've been in the trenches and seen many of your brothers and sisters lose their jobs."

Gettelfinger struck a somber tone as he followed Granholm, thanking union members for their support during dark days: "Because of the difficult challenges our nation and union have faced, our membership has declined."

"Because of your strength, your commitment, your willingness to stand up and your solidarity, we faced these challenges and charted a course that led our great union down a path to survival. Leaner, yes, but stronger, wiser, and more determined as well."

For both Granholm and Gettelfinger, their reflections were a far cry from the enthusiasm and confidence both exuded when they first took office.

While acknowledging the "tough, tight, trying economic times" in her 2003 inaugural speech, Granholm said, "Government will be great and it will do great."

And Gettelfinger, upon taking the reins in mid-2002, vowed that workers wouldn't have to pay more for health care benefits in upcoming contract talks. "We don't think it's going to be a big issue," he said, "because we're not going to cost-shift. Simple enough. Next question." Since then, of course, the UAW has made many concessions, including the shift of all retiree health benefits from the auto companies to a union-run trust fund.

Of the two, Granholm got the more rousing ovations from the UAW delegates, as she pleaded for government, industry and labor to join forces to revive U.S. manufacturing.

Disputing the argument that jobs should go to right-to-work states where compulsory union membership is forbidden, Granholm declared, "Let's flip the argument. Let's tell them, hey, if you come to UAW-represented states, we're going to give you the most talented workforce on the planet. Right?"

Big applause.

"Building stuff in the United States is a critical national need. We are a weak nation if we make nothing," she cried.

More applause.

"In World War II, if we didn't have the manufacturing infrastructure of America based upon the auto industry, we wouldn't have made those B-1 bombers or the tanks here," she continued. "Are we going to turn that over to China, to Mexico, to provide the means for our own national security? Hell no, hell no!"

Long ovation.

Gettelfinger, aside from a spirited shot at Republican senators who opposed the federal rescue of General Motors and Chrysler, voiced only a cautious optimism about the future. "There is strong evidence that the worst is behind us and the industry is clearly rebounding," he said. And in something of a bittersweet ending to his last speech as UAW president Gettelfinger said, "It's wonderful to be union. To have a union card is the best insurance anyone who works for a living can have."

But obviously, as the past eight years in Michigan have shown, there's no such thing as full protection.



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