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Gettelfinger: UAW Sacrifices For GM's Survival

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Gettelfinger: UAW Sacrifices For GM's Survival

Economy

Gettelfinger: UAW Sacrifices For GM's Survival

Gettelfinger: UAW Sacrifices For GM's Survival

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The United Auto Workers union last week ratified a package of concessions designed to reduce General Motor's labor costs. It was a key piece in the restructuring effort at GM. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger tells Renee Montagne that the workers and retirees sacrificed for GM's survival.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And we turn now to the president of the United Auto Workers, Ron Gettelfinger. Good morning to you.

Mr. RON GETTELFINGER (President, United Auto Workers): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What are the key elements that the union is getting out of this?

Mr. GETTELFINGER: Well, what we want to see in the long term is we want to see this company survive. And we've made a lot of sacrifices to ensure that that happens, both for our active workers in the form of modifications to our collective bargaining agreement, and to the VEBA which takes care of the post-retirement health care for retirees.

MONTAGNE: There are, of course, negatives. As you said, you've made sacrifices. I gather one of them is that the union has promised not to strike for some years to come.

Mr. GETTELFINGER: Well, that was part of the Chrysler arrangement that carried over to General Motors. That was negotiated with Treasury and Chrysler at the time. We still have provisions in our contract that are in place. For instance, health and safety issues are strikable issues. So if something along those lines were to occur, we'd still have the ability to strike.

MONTAGNE: It is, in a sense, a historic day for GM. Did you ever think it would come to this?

Mr. GETTELFINGER: I don't think anybody ever truly believed that it would come to this. And, you know, you had a few people out there that were saying, let them go. Let them go into bankruptcy. It'll be the best for everybody involved. Certainly, we have never been a proponent of bankruptcy. We think it's the wrong road to go down. But eventually, the decision was made that that's what was going to happen. And then it's a matter of managing that situation to the very best of everyone - ability. And that's what has occurred.

And Chrysler, as you know, went in and came out or will be coming out rather quickly.

MONTAGNE: How are you going, at this point in time, to balance the needs of the union with the needs of a company that you want to keep alive?

Mr. GETTELFINGER: Well, you know, I guess in a way it's a misperception out there about the relationship between the union and the management. And, yes, we have had disputes. We've questioned sourcing decisions. But look, you hear about a situation like at General Motors where we have a strike or had a strike in the past and, you know, it gets a lot of media hype and a lot of play. But you don't hear about every time that we go in and negotiate a contract successfully and it's ratified by our membership, both parties shake hands and go on with business. So a lot of it is the hype that's associated with it because of the size of the companies.

MONTAGNE: Now, you just mentioned that you have had, the UAW has had problems with sourcing decisions. And by that I'm taking you mean outsourcing...

Mr. GETTELFINGER: That's correct.

MONTAGNE: …of jobs. Now, we've heard that GM is entrusted in importing from China. The union is opposing that. And one of the arguments is the company would be using taxpayer money, if you will, and then shipping or outsourcing jobs overseas. Is that the core of your issue?

Mr. GETTELFINGER: Well, we've got that issue resolved to our satisfaction at this point in time, because initially the company, under their viability plan, was talking about bringing a small car in here from China as well as increasing their imports here from South Korea. And we've got a commitment from the company that they are going to manufacture a small vehicle in one of our UAW-represented idled assembly plants.

Additionally, we've been able to convince them to keep some plants in operating mode as the seasonal rate picks up on the automobiles that the company would be able to open these facilities.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, Mr. Gettelfinger, just looking ahead, how do you foresee General Motors as a company in the future?

Mr. GETTELFINGER: Well, it's going to be a much smaller company. I mean, if you go back to 1979, General Motors had 460,000 UAW-represented workers there. Today, they're in the neighborhood of 60,000 or less. And as they go through this restructuring mode, they'll come out with about 38 to 40,000, somewhere in that neighborhood. So it's going to be a much smaller company than what any of us had ever envisioned that it would be. But I think they're going to continue to move forward with the advanced-technology vehicles. You know, they've got the Volt that's coming out. And I think they're going to regain a bit of market share as we move forward, and just a matter of winning back the consumers.

MONTAGNE: United Auto Workers union leader Ron Gettelfinger. Thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. GETTELFINGER: Thank you very much, Renee.

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