By on December 14, 2009

King (left), Gettelfinger, and Ford's leadership team

UAW Boss Ron Gettelfinger plans to retire next year, and the search is on to replace the man who led the union through the political minefield that was the auto bailout. But the union’s support for Bob King, who led negotiations with Ford, could open up divisions within the union, reports Automotive News [sub]. King followed the Gettelfinger line, offering Ford many of the same concessions it granted GM and Chrysler during the government bailout that transferred large stakes in those companies to the union’s VEBA fund. Those concessions to Ford, which would have preserved the UAW’s decades-long policy of treating the Detroit automakers equally, were rejected by the same union rank-and-file that must now ratify King’s nomination.

The UAW membership rarely questions presidential candidates who enjoy the support of union leadership, notes AN [sub], but then there’s little at the UAW that is operating as normal. The lines are drawn between a leadership that knows it has drawn down most of its reserves of political capital, and members who see the union leadership as having overseen a major erosion of benefits. “With King, there will be no change in direction of the union,” Labor Notes Commentator Tiffany Ten Eyck tells AN [sub], underlining the conflict within the union.

Ultimately though, the UAW is fairly lucky to have survived the bailout backlash, and had it not been led by a pragmatist (albeit a reluctant one) like Gettelfinger, it might well have been legislated into complete irrelevance. In this sense, King’s commitment to platform bargaining and moderation are good for the union and its employers. But the major element lost by the UAW over the last year is a sense of normalcy. Having been forced into concessions placing it near parity with non-union transplant employees, the UAW rightly lost a lot of legitimacy with its own members, and the rejection of Ford concessions could well have been the first signs of a membership push-back.

But UAW leadership won’t be sitting still on the divisions within its membership. But with few options remaining on the automotive front, the union might just be saved by turning away from automobiles altogether. The head of Flint’s UAW local tells MLive that new UAW leadership could seek to shore up the union’s relevance by emphasizing clean energy manufacturing jobs over the auto industry, diversifying the UAW against the inevitable lean times ahead. But in any case, the UAW is hardly free to determine its own future. The union’s VEBA retiree benefits fund currently holds 55 percent of Chrysler, and a 17.5 percent stake in GM. Those stakes must be monetized post-haste, so the union leadership will continue to face pressure to grant short-term concessions as the automakers move towards IPOs that the union’s fate rests upon. Expect divisions within the UAW to deepen over the next year, as the UAW’s new leaders walk the fine line between its needs as owners and employee representatives.

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2 Comments on “UAW Turning To Ford Negotiator?...”

  • avatar

    The UAW, Ford and Concessions –

    Ford was promised those concessions by the UAW leadership when they did the first contract b4 the bankruptcies (that contract was the basis for GM’s and ChryCo’s).  Ford did not receive said concessions.  Ford has $25 billion or so in cash at this point, enough to pay down half of thier “auto” related debt and still have that magical cash number that was made up some time ago.  It is also enough money to open 10 new factories or so.  As part of the “one ford” plan, they are moving to 6 global car platforms.  Before the next contract negotiations begin Ford will be down to three platforms that can’t be built at other plants around the world, D3/4, truck and mustange RWD (which may be global with the next falcon by then), everything else will be on world B, C, and Euro C/D (new fusion is expected in 2013).  I willing to bet 50/50 that the hard line factories that voted down the concessions will strike, will be closed (rebuilt in south and mexico) and the progressive factories will accept and vote out the UAW forming thier own union. 

    Either way Ford is making sure that they have the option to move forward with or without.

  • avatar

    It will be interesting to see what happens.  I am guessing that the UAW will be giving Ford its concessions or the factories will close.  I agree with rnc.  If I was in charge, that is likely what I would do.

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