DETROIT – “The only time I’m going backward is when I’m in my car backing out of a parking spot,” said United Auto Workers President Ron Gettlefinger at a press conference at the union’s Solidarity House, June 17. “We’re just not going to shift health care costs on the backs of our workers,” he said, referring to the union’s resistance to making concessions on health care at the pending contract talks with the Big Three auto companies.

As the mid-July contract talks near, UAW leaders have begun to unveil the 750,000-member union’s national public policy priorities, which include a universal national health care system, retirement security based on defined-benefit pensions, protection of workers’ rights (especially the right to organize), and “fair trade policies that protect the environment and workers’ rights,” Gettlefinger said.

According to a UAW statement, the U.S. spends more than 14 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, but the quality, affordability and availability of care compare unfavorably to most industrialized nations. Gettlefinger called the health care situation a “national disgrace,” and said that cost-shifting to workers “does not contain the cost, and it does not improve the quality of health care.”

Referring to the movement of manufacturing jobs into Mexico since NAFTA’s passage, he said, “Our loss has not been Mexico’s gain. Nobody wins in the race to the bottom.”

– Joel Wendland