United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger on Monday warned companies not to misinterpret his union's past cooperation as a sign of weakness.
Gettelfinger said the UAW would fight at the bargaining table, in the courts, politically and "if need be on the picket line."
His comments Monday came as the UAW kicked off a two-day meeting in Detroit designed to set the union's bargaining agenda in upcoming contract talks in the auto and other industries.
The 1,500 union members from more than 800 UAW locals in the U.S. and Canada weren't expected to get into the nitty-gritty of what will be discussed with individual companies, but they were to set the overall bargaining plan.
Outside the convention center downtown where Gettelfinger spoke, about 20 union members and retirees carried signs protesting the union making concessions to domestic automakers.
Martin Shawl, 53, a 28-year Delphi Corp. and General Motors Corp. worker from Bay City, said he doesn't believe the Detroit automakers are in financial trouble.
"It's voodoo accounting," he said, questioning the timing of the Chrysler Group's losses and GM's restatement of earnings due to accounting troubles
He said the union shouldn't give back anything to the companies, and it should end a two-tier wage scale that pays new hires less than longtime workers.
The UAW's main employers, GM, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co., have lost billions during the past two years and are expected to demand major concessions from the UAW in upcoming contract talks.
Among the issues are health care costs for active and retired workers, wages, work rules and the jobs bank, in which laid-off workers get most of their pay.