Gettelfinger's legacy? King says he saved the Detroit 3

DETROIT -- Outgoing UAW President Ron Gettelfinger refuses to talk about his legacy. But his probable successor, Bob King, didn't mince words when asked this morning about his boss's tenure:

“In my view of the world, Ron really saved the auto industry and saved the UAW,” said King, interviewed just before today's opening of the UAW National Constitutional Convention here.

“Because he overcame really difficult challenges with Congress, with Southern senators who were attacking their own country's companies, we have a union to fight back from.”

King, 63, is a shoo-in to replace Gettelfinger when he retires after Wednesday's officer elections. King is vice president of the UAW's Ford department. He created controversy last autumn when he pushed for hourly concessions at Ford, including a no-strike clause, that would have brought the Ford contract into pattern with better deals provided General Motors and Chrysler. The additional concessions were roundly defeated by the rank and file.

As Gettelfinger's chief aide, King went through the battles with Gettelfinger over the past three years to save a faltering Detroit 3. All three companies are now posting operating profits.

None of the battles were tougher, King said today, than the fight for federal bailout money for GM and Chrysler.

King said Gettelfinger's integrity and honesty during the Congressional testimony and in media interviews helped to win support for the company-saving infusion of more than $50 billion in loans.

“People just sensed that this was a guy telling the truth,” King said.

Gettelfinger, 65, will open the convention this morning with what many consider will be his farewell address. Asked on numerous occasions to define his legacy, Gettelfinger has repeatedly said his focus was never that but only to represent the interests of the union's more than 350,000 members.

King said that's Gettelfinger's humility coming out.

Said King: “We have a strong foundation for the UAW, and we're going to come back strong.”