Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

UAW to Choose New Leadership, Set Bargaining Goals at Conventions

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

UAW to Choose New Leadership, Set Bargaining Goals at Conventions

Article excerpt

DETROIT (AP) -- As the United Auto Workers gather today for two conventions, the main event will be the anointing of new leaders who will have some hard, immediate realities to contend with: Automakers are closing plants, losing market share and outsourcing an increasing amount of work.

Nearly 2,000 UAW delegates representing locals from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico will gather at two meetings, the 33rd Constitutional Convention and a special bargaining convention. Both will be held in Las Vegas.

UAW Vice President Ron Gettelfinger is expected to be chosen on Wednesday to succeed Stephen Yokich, who is retiring after two terms. Gettelfinger, 57, was picked last November by the 19-member UAW administrative caucus to head its slate of candidates, and every presidential nominee chosen by the group since 1946 has been elected.

Gettelfinger is "coming in with the dawning realization that everything's not fine," said Michael Flynn, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan.

These are some of the challenges he faces:

* The UAW has seen its membership shrink from more than 1.5 million in the 1970s to about 700,000 today.

* Both Ford and the Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler are in the midst of restructuring plans that call for the elimination of more than 50,000 jobs combined.

* All the Big Three automakers, which also include General Motors, want to cut manufacturing capacity to account for loss in market share to foreign competition.

Former UAW president Douglas Fraser says the union's membership is fighting for jobs at a time when the Big Three should be seeing a much higher return in a still hot market.

"All three should be prospering, making billions, but the American consumer finds products from Nissan, Honda, Toyota more attractive," Fraser said. "They're invading the van and SUV markets and now that profitable segment has eroded."

Adding to the union's headaches is the utter futility of its attempts to organize workers at American plants operated by foreign automakers.

The latest bid, last fall, was resoundingly rejected by Nissan workers at the Japanese auto company's Smyrna, Tenn. …

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