UAW resisting GM onslaught

The United Auto Workers union is digging in its heels to protect its members, their families and communities from General Motors’ drastic job cuts.

It would be a “huge mistake” for the multinational corporation to take any unilateral action against 25,000 employees or retirees, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said June 16.

Gettelfinger and UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker answered media speculation about the union’s stance. “As we have said consistently, the UAW does not intend to reopen the UAW-GM National Agreement,” they said. “We have been just as consistent in saying that we are willing to work with GM to find mutually agreeable ways to reduce costs in health care and other areas.

“By working together, the UAW and GM have done a lot of important things over the past several years, including making dramatic improvements in workplace safety, productivity and product quality. It would be a huge mistake for GM to throw all that away by taking any unilateral action on health care benefits or other matters covered by our national agreement,” they said.

The contract expires in September 2007. The last time the UAW agreed to reopen a contract was in 1972, as part of the Chrysler bailout. The last strike at GM was in 1998.

On June 6, GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner announced that the multinational corporation would slash 25,000 jobs by 2008 and loot the health care and pension benefits for 1.1 million retired autoworkers.

The corporation claims it “lost” $1.1 billion in the first quarter of 2005. Its plan to increase its profits is not to cut Wagoner’s $4.8 million annual salary, about the size of a small town’s budget, or other executives’ paychecks. Instead, GM is aiming at autoworkers, active and retired.

Tony Fransetta is Florida president of the Alliance of Retired Americans. A former Ohio resident, he retired after working 34 years at Ford’s Brookpark, Ohio, complex.

“Just because the company wants to reopen the contract does not mean reopen it,” Fransetta said in a telephone interview. “During the ’80s and since then, the union met with the company and reconfigured the health care, changed procedures, but kept the Medicare pattern. We are blessed, because we do not have to cut pills in half or skip taking them, like some of the proud people of our generation have to.”

Fransetta wanted to clear some public misunderstandings about the autoworker retiree benefits that GM is so quick to trash. “Those benefits are not a promise,” he said, his gentle voice rising. “We earned them — every nickel, dime and quarter. The company doesn’t give them as a goodwill offering, a promise. The pensions and health care were all part of bargaining. They are an entitlement.”

Two high ranking union officials told the Detroit Free Press that GM is demanding $2 billion in health care concessions a year. The union offered $200 million to $400 million to restructure health care.

The union is critical of a deal GM tried to make with Fiat, but that failed, resulting in a $4.4 billion loss. Autoworkers say they shouldn’t have to pay for GM’s bad management.