Special Report

UAW logo2007 UAW
Labor Talks

DETROIT – Detroit auto makers should not expect special treatment at the bargaining table based on their respective financial woes, says the president of the United Auto Workers union.

“Pattern bargaining is hard and fast and we do not look for there to be any departure from that,” Ron Gettelfinger tells Ward’s as more than 1,500 UAW delegates gather here for a special convention to determine contract objectives for the next four years.

Against the current backdrop of economic instability, the practice of demanding the same wage and benefit package from General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group has generated considerable discussion among the union’s rank and file.

The UAW’s refusal to accept the same concessions at Chrysler that it approved last year at GM and Ford reportedly contributed to DaimlerChrysler AG’s decision to explore selling Chrysler.

Gettelfinger dismisses as “hype” any talk about the state of negotiations between the UAW and Detroit auto makers.

“Most of the people that are talking, don’t know what’s going on,” he says in an interview before today’s proceedings began. “It’s just a fact of life. You know, I’ve got that old saying: ‘Those who say, don’t know. And those who know, don’t say.’ That seems most appropriate at this point in time.”

Gettelfinger sits on DaimlerChrysler’s supervisory board, a position guaranteed to the UAW by virtue of major concessions its members made to save the former Chrysler Corp. during the early 1980s.

Since the UAW’s rejection last year of Chrysler’s bid to erase what it considered to be a cost advantage enjoyed by its rivals, the union has been quietly reviewing its position.

But senior delegates to this week’s convention suggest solidarity, in its truest form, is threatened. They note Chrysler workers’ opposition to concessions and claim there are fears among Chrysler and GM workers that their next contract will be compromised by the weakened state of Ford’s business.

Jeff Washington, secretary of the UAW’s national bargaining council and president of Local 900, predicts pattern bargaining will remain part of the union’s strategy.

“That’s not going to go away,” says Washington, whose local represents workers at Ford’s assembly complex in Wayne, MI. If pattern bargaining were abandoned, he adds, “it would destroy the union.”

emayne@wardsauto.com