UAW offers concessions to help Big Three

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DETROIT

The president of the United Auto Workers said the union is willing to revamp its contract to pressure Congress on a $34 billion federal bailout loan for the crippled industry, as Big Three executives prepared to resume their case in Washington on Thursday.

But the appeal faces massive customer resistance in Congress, where many lawmakers are finding little public support for the bailout of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC.

“The public mood, which I saw when I traveled the state recently, is very much against bailouts,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican. Nevertheless, he said in an interview on Fox, the notion of a partial failure of such a large industry would be too serious to allow public sentiment to solely decide.

In Washington, Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, said he has not budged from his opposition to an auto industry bailout and his constituents are backing him.

“All they see is the government printing money and obligating their children and grandchildren to a greater debt,” Mr. Price said.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Wednesday found that 61 percent of those surveyed opposed federal aid to the car companies. Even in the companies’ industrial Midwestern base, 53 percent said they did not support a government aid package.

Hoping to sway public sentiment, UAW leaders from across the country held an emergency meeting Wednesday.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger emerged from the meeting to say the union would rework a retiree health care trust fund, eliminate the union’s maligned jobs bank program - which Mr. Gettelfinger dubbed a “lightning rod” for criticism - and cut additional measures that would loosen the union’s trademark job-security protections.

“We’re going to make modifications; we’re not opening the contract, if you will,” Mr. Gettelfinger said at a news conference at Detroit’s Renaissance Center, the corporate home of GM.

Brian Fredline, president of UAW Local 602 in Lansing, said the union agreement amounts to members doing what it takes to “extend an olive branch” at a stressful time.

“We must send a message to the Hill that we are partnering with corporate America in sharing the pain because we understand the stakes are way too high.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” he added. “It could have been wage and benefit cuts, plant closings, dire circumstances and drastic reduction, but it wasn’t that.”

Under the original agreement for the health care trust fund, the automakers would initially fund a portion. But General Motors, Ford and Chrysler lack the resources to come up with the $49.6 billion share of their funding.

The trust was to begin Jan. 1, 2010. Mr. Gettelfinger said the payment may now be pushed back to allow the automakers time to become more solvent in the wake of possible federal aid.

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Andrea Billups

Andrea Billups

Andrea Billups is a Midwest-based national correspondent for The Washington Times. She is a native of West Virginia and received her undergraduate degree from Marshall University and her master’s degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Her news career spans more than 20 years. She has reported for several newspapers, has edited two magazines and before joining the Times, ...

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David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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