Friday, June 1, 2007

UAW chief urges more cooperation

"We have no interest in tearing down employers. Just the opposite — we want employers to succeed." - Ron Gettelfinger, President of the United Auto Workers union See full image

Gettelfinger applauds moves like Cerberus deal, calls for 'taking the high road' in contract talks.

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

MACKINAC ISLAND -- United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger struck a conciliatory tone Thursday, telling business leaders they have much in common and praising the management moves of the Big Three.

"You don't have to be anti-employer to be pro-union. We have no interest in tearing down employers. Just the opposite -- we want employers to succeed so that workers have a chance to share in that success," he said.

Gettelfinger, speaking at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference, said labor and management have "more in common that you might think." He compared joining a union to a business joining the Chamber of Commerce.

He called several times for "taking the high road" in contract negotiations and other dealings. He praised the new ownership of Chrysler Group, Cerberus Capital Management LP.

Gettelfinger conceded the UAW had concerns about "the strip and flip reputation that exists in many of these (equity) firms." But Cerberus, he said, has shown a sincere commitment to invest in Chrysler and its pension for UAW members.

"We're going to do everything we can to make the most of it," he said.

He praised the Big Three for spending billions of dollars on developing new advanced technologies.

"Labor and management should be talking about the positives that are taking place in our industry," Gettelfinger said.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, said Gettelfinger had struck the right note in urging cooperation.

"Union and management need to work together. They have a lot of issues in common," Dingell said.

Yet Gettelfinger offered harsh criticism of Delphi Corp. for its decision to file bankruptcy in 2005 and paying lavish bonuses to executives.

The union has been negotiating with the auto parts supplier to reach an agreement on labor costs and other issues to help the company emerge from bankruptcy.

"We are continuing to try to work through the problems," Gettelfinger said, saying he had no timeline for completing the talks.

He declined to say whether the two sides had come any closer since the UAW offered a counterproposal on wages and benefits on May 15.

The UAW has turned down at least two offers from Delphi that would have meant deep pay cuts for its members.

An agreement is crucial to the success of Delphi's plans for private equity investors to buy up to 70 percent of the supplier and bring it out of bankruptcy as a newly capitalized company.

Delphi has declined to comment on the talks or criticism from Gettelfinger in recent months. The company has reiterated it is committed to reaching an agreement and continues to talk with the UAW.

In January, a judge approved a plan by private equity investors to invest $3.4 billion in a court-approved agreement to own up to 72 percent of Delphi and control a majority of seats on the board. One of the investors was Cerberus, which is withdrawing. The remaining investors are Appaloosa Management LP, Harbinger Capital Partners, Merrill Lynch & Co., UBS Securities LLC and Goldman Sachs.

As part of its restructuring, Delphi wants to close 21 of 29 U.S. plants and must reach agreement with its former parent, General Motors Corp. The automaker has said it expects its costs connected to resolving its issues with Delphi to be about $7 billion.

About 20,000 Delphi hourly workers already have agreed to accept buyouts or early retirements and thousands of salaried workers have left the company.

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