DETROIT – United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger is confident heading into this year’s contract talks with the Big 3, but he knows they won’t be easy.

“We do have a lot of mutual respect. And we’re all going to the table knowing that the UAW’s going to win,” Gettelfinger jokes, evoking laughter at a Detroit Economic Club luncheon.

When the crowd settles down, however, he admits, “You never know the outcome of negotiations. But I do know this: every set of negotiations, you encounter difficult issues.”

Asked if health-care costs – worth $4.2 billion a year to General Motors Corp. – will be one, he balks. It won’t even be on the table.

“A lot of people, especially in the press, are curious about how we’re going to solve the problem of rising health-care costs during this year’s auto talks,” Gettelfinger says during his keynote address. “The answer is, we’re not. It’s a national problem. It demands a national solution.

“We need a universal, comprehensive, single-payer health-care program to cover every man, woman and child in the United States. You can’t fix the health-care crisis in America at any one bargaining table, with any one employer or within any one industry.

“You certainly can’t solve it by shifting health-care costs to working families.”

Still, Gettelfinger expresses hope that the ties forged over the years between the UAW and the Big 3 “will help us get to a successful conclusion” to the contract negotiations.