Former Ford Motor Co. repairman Ron Gettelfinger was elected president of the United Auto Workers on Wednesday, giving the ex-Marine a year to prepare for a tough round of talks with U.S. auto makers.
The UAW faces growing pressure to protect the jobs of its rank-and-file members and to recruit new members in a culture that has turned increasingly indifferent to labor unions. And next year, Gettelfinger, 57, will lead the union into contentious negotiations with Detroit's Big Three auto makers, all of which have shed jobs and closed plants to reduce costs.
Gettelfinger succeeds the retiring Stephen Yokich.
No candidate opposed Gettelfinger, whose election was virtually assured in November when he was nominated by the union's leadership council. The new president, who takes office today, has headed the union's Ford department.
While usually considered the quintessential blue-collar union, the UAW now represents more than 100,000 graduate students, nurses, physicians, prosecutors and other government employees. Gettelfinger has said recruiting new members will be one of his top priorities.
Auto workers employed at General Motors Corp., Ford and the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler, however, still account for more than 40% of the union's 720,000 members.
The UAW's membership has declined by more than half in the last two decades and threatens to continue that trend as U.S. auto makers slowly decrease factory jobs.