UAW rallying cry: 'restore and more'

David Barkholz covers labor issues for Automotive News

Transplant organizing, Alan Mulally's millions and Eminem were the buzz at this week's UAW special bargaining convention in Detroit.

A few observations:

• Recent setbacks for public unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan will not detour UAW President Bob King from organizing the Asian and German automakers operating in the United States.

To the contrary, he said the UAW can only be strengthened by organizing additional companies and intertwining the interests of the UAW with other unions and social-justice groups. King is marshaling his forces to target at least one transplant for an organizing drive this year. He said his field staff has sat down with 2,000 non-union workers at the transplants over the past several weeks. He concluded this week's convention with a protest march in Detroit against Bank of America's lending and foreclosure practices.

King said he would seek the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the recruiting drive. He's also trying to get German labor unions to pressure German automakers to accede to union drives here. His troops and allies are almost in place. Expect King to pick the first target at any time.

• Criticism was thick for the $56.5 million stock bonus that Ford CEO Alan Mulally took this year from Ford Motor Co. I predict it will end up costing Ford money at the bargaining table this year. You could hardly talk to a delegate or UAW staffer, including King, without the bonus coming up.

I didn't sense that the outrage was feigned for negotiating purposes. In the union's view, the payout was excessive at a company that is just getting back on its feet. So if Ford can afford that kind of money for its CEO, then money is there to restore some of the more than $7,000-plus in concessions that Ford workers accepted over the past four years. And unlike their brethren at General Motors and Chrysler Group, Ford workers can strike if they're not satisfied with how Ford shares in its new-found fortunes. The Detroit 3 contracts with the UAW expire in September.

•On a lighter note, the coolest part of the convention was a replay of Chrysler's now-famous "Imported from Detroit" ad featuring rapper Eminem. It came at the end of a very long second day of speeches and reports. UAW Vice President General Holiefield, who was presiding at the time, said the segment would wake people up. It did.

"This is a great ad," whispered a UAW local official who represents a GM plant. As the Detroit cityscapes swirled by and the ad ended with Eminem pointing into the camera, delegates began to applaud. But wait … the video was extended with scenes of UAW workers building the Chrysler 200 sedan (star of the ad) at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant and a cameo by Chrysler employee relations chief Al Iacobelli.

It concluded with Holiefield pointing into the camera and saying, "That's who YOU are." That brought down the house. Holiefield had no choice but to run it again after chants went up of "one more time."

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