UAW Condemns GOP for Scuttling Auto Industry Bailout

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2008

United Auto Workers President Ronald A. Gettelfinger lashed out against Senate Republicans a day after a congressional compromise on an auto industry bailout failed, accusing the lawmakers of trying to "pierce the heart of organized labor."

Gettelfinger, at a news conference yesterday in Detroit, welcomed a statement from the White House that said the administration was willing to use funds targeted for bailing out the financial system to help the autoworkers. But he repeated his insistence that bankruptcy isn't an option, saying failure at any one automaker would force firms across the industry to collapse.

The Republican Senate proposal sought to cut UAW wages, bringing them in line -- or at "parity" -- with what workers earn at foreign-owned, non-unionized plants in the United States. A failure in Congress to reach an agreement on the wage-cut proposal Thursday night doomed the $14 billion industry rescue package.

"They believe workers are expendable and wages mean nothing," Gettelfinger said.

But tough talk isn't winning over the American public, said Gary N. Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

"Congress sees which way the wind is blowing and they see that autoworkers are not popular with the public," he said.

Auto executives drew the ire of many Americans when they came to Washington on private jets seeking aid for the industry. Workers, with their extensive retiree benefits, salary and job protections, have not fared much better.

Gettelfinger said the "parity" the Republican senators were seeking is difficult to calculate given the differing wage rates among the foreign vehicles manufacturers in the United States. Furthermore, he said, the pay cut wouldn't do much to lift Detroit.

"If we work for nothing, it wouldn't help them limp into January," he said.

He said the union already had worked to cut health-care payments for retirees and job protections that try to ensure workers an income when plants close.

Gettelfinger blamed the Republican senators who represent states with foreign-auto plants of trying to put the American companies at a disadvantage. He said lawmakers were allowing Southern states to subsidize foreign automakers with hundreds of millions of dollars to build factories, while turning their backs on Detroit.

"They use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the competition," he said. "We can't compete like this as a country."

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