Delphi Corp. Chairman Robert S. Miller Jr. met on Thursday with members of Congress, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and told them that plant closures and concessions by unions are key to turning around the auto-parts supplier.
Clinton and other public officials around the country are feeling the heat from Delphi workers who fear losing their jobs and pensions. Delphi, which filed for bankruptcy court protection earlier this month, has a plant in Lockport, N.Y. Miller met with several members of Congress who have Delphi plants in their districts, including Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.). Reynolds met this week with Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao to express his concern about the Delphi situation and to inquire about possible action on the federal level.
Clinton sent a letter to President Bush on Wednesday, asking the administration to convene a national auto manufacturing summit. Clinton chairs the Senate's manufacturing caucus, which she formed with Sen. Lindsay O. Graham (R-S.C.) to examine challenges to the manufacturing industry. She is the second major voice asking for a federal discussion of the deepening crisis in the auto industry. Last month, Ford Motor Co. chief executive William Clay Ford Jr. wrote to Bush requesting a summit that would bring together industry and federal officials to discuss problems in the auto sector and energy policy.
In her letter, Clinton said the auto industry's problems require the attention of the nation's leaders. "We cannot allow one of the core elements of our national economic infrastructure to wither away," she wrote.
Alan Reuther, the legislative director of the United Auto Workers union, last week said the Bush administration was the biggest stumbling block to federal action to help the struggling auto manufacturing sector.
A spokesman for the White House said the administration is "open to suggestions" on what to do about the troubled industry.
Separately, Delphi's unions sharply criticized the company's opening proposal for wage and benefit cuts, which was delivered to the unions late this week. Delphi is demanding wage cuts of 60 percent or more from unionized workers, a reduction in its health care bills and more power to close or sell factories. In a written statement, the United Auto Workers said the proposal was a "dismal idea" that displays "a total lack of concern" about the impact it would have on Delphi workers and families.
James Clark, president of the IUE-CWA, Delphi's second-largest union with 8,500 workers and 3,000 retirees, said he was disappointed by the company's offer. "It was somewhat of a surprise how bad it was," Clark said. "We are willing to try to work through the issues. We are not going to allow all of Delphi's financial woes to be left at the feet or on the backs of our members."
Clark said Delphi's proposal seeks to cut the jobs of more than half of the union's members by closing or selling six of its 10 IUE-CWA-represented plants.
Delphi has 31 plants in 13 states in the United Sates, with 33,000 hourly employees, 24,000 of whom are members of the UAW. An additional 9,000 are represented by other unions.
Clinton and other New York lawmakers are concerned about the fate of the Delphi factory in Lockport, which makes air-conditioning and heating parts. Earlier this month, Miller said he had a 20-minute telephone conversation with Clinton about the state of the auto industry and about health care policy after Delphi filed for bankruptcy.
Michael Tucker, the mayor of Lockport, has worked at the factory for 28 years. The plant is the largest employer in the county with 3,800 employees. Tucker said the workers are very concerned. "There are a lot of questions up in the air," he said.