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Autoworkers to Pick Bargaining Leaders

The union prepares for contract talks in 2007 as GM and Ford plan job cuts and plant closures.

November 25, 2005|From Bloomberg News

A United Auto Workers faction that has controlled the union since 1946 is selecting new leaders to oversee bargaining with General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler unit.

The union's Administration Caucus will meet Dec. 6 to make its choices for top UAW posts. The three vice presidents who now oversee dealings with the automakers range in age from 65 to 67. The faction, whose choices have been tantamount to election, has a policy against officials seeking office after they turn 65.

"The transition is very traumatic for the companies," said Sean McAlinden, an analyst at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. "They rely on the communications channels they have with these vice presidents."

The Detroit-based union is choosing the new leaders as GM and Ford's North American auto businesses are losing money, and as the UAW prepares for talks in 2007 on new contracts with the Big Three U.S. carmakers. GM is planning job cuts before 2007 and Ford intends to announce plant closings in January.

GM said this week that it would eliminate 30,000 jobs in the U.S. and Canada and would close all or part of 12 facilities in its biggest round of cuts since 1991. The union called the plan "extremely disappointing, unfair and unfortunate," and said it would fight to enforce job-security provisions in the current contract.

Every UAW president since 1970, including current leader Ron Gettelfinger, served as a vice president before assuming the top post. Gettelfinger, 61, is seeking a second four-year term as president.

The Administration Caucus designates candidates for vice president, while the UAW president decides who gets specific duties. The seven officers and 11 regional directors who make up the union's executive board are all members of the faction. Election of the new officials will occur in June at a union convention in Las Vegas.

Paul Krell, a UAW spokesman, declined to comment.

GM spokesman Stefan Weinmann, Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans and Chrysler spokesman Ed Saenz also declined to comment on the pending changes in the UAW's leadership. "This is a matter internal to the UAW," Weinmann said.

Richard Shoemaker, 66, is the current head of the union's GM department and also has responsibility for dealing with Delphi Corp., the largest U.S. auto-parts maker. Delphi's U.S. operations are under bankruptcy protection and the company is seeking wage and benefit concessions from its unions.

The GM slot "historically has been a pivotal seat," said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at UC Berkeley. "It is a seat that will determine the future of the union."

Shoemaker supervised negotiations with GM that led to an agreement intended to reduce the company's annual healthcare expenses by $1 billion. He and Gettelfinger issued the Nov. 21 statement criticizing GM's plant closings and job cuts.

Gerald Bantom, 65, head of the union's Ford department, is involved in similar healthcare talks with that automaker. Nate Gooden, 67, chief of the union's DaimlerChrysler department, sits on that automaker's supervisory board. The UAW got the seat in 1998 when Daimler-Benz acquired Chrysler Corp.

Bantom and Gooden are African American, and one of the Administration Caucus's traditional concerns has been maintaining racial diversity on the union's 18-member executive board. The board now has three African Americans: Bantom, Gooden and Jimmy Settles, director of the union's Region 1A in Taylor, Mich.

The union has two other vice presidents who could be shifted to the responsibility for one of the automakers. They are Bob King, 59, who is in charge of organizing new members, and Cal Rapson, 60, who directs its farm-equipment department.

The Administration Caucus could also elevate regional directors or union staff members to vice president slots. Gettelfinger headed the union's region covering Indiana and Kentucky before becoming vice president in charge of the Ford department in 1998.

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