With four of the most challenging years in the United Auto Workers Union's history in front of him, Ron Gettelfinger was elected Wednesday to a second term as UAW president.
Gettelfinger, 61, faced no opposition and was re-elected by the 1,400 delegates to the union's constitutional convention, which is held every four years. He faces turbulent times and difficult decisions as U.S. auto makers continue to reduce their manufacturing work forces and drive down union membership.
Delegates, many dressed in matching shirts, cheered after the vote amid thousands of red, white, blue and yellow balloons, some with "Elect Ron's Team" printed on them. After Gettelfinger was elected by affirmation, delegates also re-elected Secretary Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn and five vice presidents. Then there was a large receiving line in a ballroom at the MGM Grand Hotel.
Gettelfinger, who joined the union as a chassis line repairman at Ford Motor Co.'s Louisville, Ky., Assembly Plant, will lead the union through what may be contentious 2007 contract talks with the Big Three domestic manufacturers.
He also must deal with corporate downsizing plans and continued efforts to move labor to countries with lower wages. Ford and General Motors Corp. already have announced plans to reduce their hourly work forces by 60,000, and suppliers represented by the UAW also are cutting. Delphi Corp., GM's largest supplier, plans to close 21 of its 29 U.S. plants and cut thousands of hourly workers.
Delphi also is seeking wage reductions, and if successful, other suppliers and the Big Three surely will follow in upcoming contract talks. Gettelfinger thus far has been cooperative with Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group. After examining the finances of Ford and GM last year, he negotiated concessions to reduce the companies' retiree health care costs.
Such moves have angered some in the union, but many others support them as necessary to help the domestic automakers through tough times.