LAS VEGAS -- With four of the most challenging years in the United Auto Workers union's history in front of him, Ron Gettelfinger was elected yesterday to a second term as UAW president.
Gettelfinger, 61, faced no opposition and was reelected by the 1,400 delegates to the union's constitutional convention, held every four years.
He faces turbulent times and difficult decisions as US automakers and suppliers continue to reduce their manufacturing workforces.
Delegates reelected Secretary Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn and picked five vice presidents. All were unopposed and on a slate backed by Gettelfinger.
``Ron is the guy, and it's a good team that he's got on board," said Jeff Washington, president of Local 900 at a Ford Motor Co. plant in Wayne, Mich.
Washington has called for a march on Washington and shutting the country down with a strike to protest anti-labor policies. But after Wednesday's election, he said he agreed with Gettelfinger's negotiate-and-cooperate approach with manufacturers that are losing money. ``It's always better to sit down and work your differences out," he said.
If the companies don't bargain, though, Washington said Gettelfinger will know what to do: ``Ron's tough. Believe me. He'll know when to come out fighting."
Gettelfinger, a Frenchtown, Ind., native, joined the union in 1964 as a chassis line repairman at Ford's Louisville, Ky., assembly plant.
Today, Gettelfinger will name the vice presidents who will lead what may be contentious negotiations with the Big Three automakers in 2007. He also must deal with corporate downsizing plans and continued efforts to move labor to countries with lower wages.
Ford and General Motors Corp. plan to reduce their hourly workforces by 60,000, and suppliers represented by the UAW are cutting jobs. Delphi Corp., GM's largest supplier, plans to close 21 of its 29 US plants and shed thousands of hourly workers.
Delphi also is seeking wage reductions. If successful, other suppliers and the Big Three surely will follow in upcoming contract talks.
Gettelfinger thus far has been cooperative with Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group. After examining the finances of Ford and GM last year, he negotiated concessions to reduce the companies' retiree healthcare costs. Chrysler Group is seeking a similar deal.
Such moves have angered some in the union, but many others support them as necessary to help the domestic automakers through tough times. ``We're not here to get everything we can out of the big corporations," said Kevin Capelle, a delegate from a Toro Co. parts distribution facility in Plymouth, Wis. ``We're here to work with them."
Workers at his plant already agreed to a 28 percent reduction in wages and health benefit costs, Capelle said.
Calvin Tyson, a worker at a Collins & Aikman parts plant in Westland, Mich., knows companies will seek concessions in future contract talks. ``The best thing that we can do is try to keep the givebacks to a minimum," he said.
Even though his plant is slated for closure, Tyson agrees with negotiating and cooperation. But he said Gettelfinger will know the right time to call a strike.
Gettelfinger won't ``accept being stonewalled, being lied to or being ignored," Tyson said.
Before his first term began in 2002, Gettelfinger was a union vice president and headed the UAW's Ford department, where he made his mark in leading negotiations during contract talks.
Gettelfinger and his vice presidents quickly will have to begin planning for talks on national contracts with the Big Three, all of which expire in September 2007. The same delegates will reconvene in the spring to shape the UAW's bargaining strategy.
Earlier in the week delegates approved a constitutional change allowing the union to take $60 million from its $914 million strike fund to spend on recruiting new members.