- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

1:09 p.m.

DETROIT (AP) — United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger today warned companies not to misinterpret his union’s past cooperation as a sign of weakness.

Mr. Gettelfinger said the UAW would fight at the bargaining table, in the courts, politically and “if need be on the picket line.”

His comments came as the UAW kicked off a two-day meeting in Detroit designed to set the union’s bargaining agenda in upcoming contract talks in the auto and other industries.

The 1,500 union members from more than 800 UAW locals in the U.S. and Canada weren’t expected to get into the nitty-gritty of what will be discussed with individual companies, but they were to set the overall bargaining plan.

Outside the convention center downtown where Mr. Gettelfinger spoke, about 20 union members and retirees carried signs protesting the union making concessions to domestic automakers.

Martin Shawl, 53, a 28-year Delphi Corp. and General Motors Corp. worker from Bay City, Mich., said he doesn’t believe the Detroit automakers are in financial trouble.

“It’s voodoo accounting,” he said, questioning the timing of the Chrysler Group’s losses and GM’s restatement of earnings due to accounting troubles.

He said that the union shouldn’t give back anything to the companies and that it should end a two-tier wage scale that pays new hires less than longtime workers.

The UAW’s main employers — GM, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. — have lost billions during the past two years and are expected to demand major concessions from the UAW in upcoming contract talks.

Among the issues are health care costs for active and retired workers, wages, work rules and the jobs bank, in which laid-off workers get most of their pay.

Mr. Gettelfinger also today called for universal health care, as well as for fair trade agreements.

“It would be a grave mistake to equate our actions to capitulation,” he said of cooperation with employers in the past.

The gathering came as membership in the union and others nationwide continues to decline.

The UAW’s membership peaked in 1979 at 1.5 million, but has been dropping ever since. The union said it had an average of 576,000 members in 2006, down from 598,000 in 2005.

Last year, the number of unionized workers in the U.S. fell by 326,000 to 15.4 million. Unions represented 12 percent of U.S. workers last year, down from 12.5 percent in 2005.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the union membership rate has dropped steadily from 20.1 percent of the work force in 1983.

Mr. Gettelfinger recently announced during an Internet chat with members that the union would renew its efforts to organize so-called transplant manufacturing operations. The UAW has had little success in organizing U.S. plants run by the Detroit Three’s main competitors, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.

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