Gettelfinger, 57, was nominated last week by the UAW's Administrative Caucus of top 19 leaders, which all but guarantees he will be elected president by rank-and-file delegates to the UAW convention in Las Vegas next June.
Gettelfinger, who has been a UAW vice president and head of the union's Ford department since 1998, likely will follow the same path as current President Steve Yokich, 66, who has passed the union's mandatory retirement age. That means:
Challenges aheadDescribed as a deeply religious man and a straight arrow who drives a hard bargain, Gettelfinger will take over the UAW as the automotive industry heads into its toughest period in years, and automakers are expected to push for concessions from the union.
The next big push could come before Gettelfinger takes office. Ford is expected to announce a massive corporate restructuring in a few weeks, which will include plans to slash both white- and blue-collar jobs.
Gettelfinger, who worked his way up from the chassis line at a Ford plant in Louisville, Kentucky, to the senior ranks of the union, won praise for negotiating a tough contract with Ford in 1999. The pact included lifetime employment for workers at automotive parts supplier Visteon Corp., even after it was spun off by Ford.
Falling membershipAs Yokich's successor, he faces the prospect of leading the union into difficult contract negotiations with the Big 3 in 2003. The UAW has seen its membership fall by more than half since 1979 - to what Yokich estimated on Thursday as a total 732,000 active members - as American automakers have downsized because of pressures from overseas-based competitors.
"I think obviously we would like to grow our membership," Gettelfinger said at a press conference on Thursday, Nov. 8, when asked what his priorities were likely to be as president.
When asked about his management style, he jokingly responded: "Abrasive."