LAS VEGAS -- UAW President Ron Gettelfinger used a rousing opening speech Monday at the 34th UAW National Convention to accuse Delphi Corp. of abusing bankruptcy laws.
Gettelfinger said the union is fighting Delphi on "every possible front" to try to hold onto jobs and wages at the supplier, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the UAW is arguing that Delphi's proposal to void union contracts is unnecessary, given that the company's overseas operations are profitable.
The UAW voted this month to authorize strikes at Delphi if the company gains court approval to void its union contracts. At the bankruptcy hearings this month in New York, the UAW set up informational pickets outside the courtroom.
In Congress, the UAW is working with representatives including U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to draft bankruptcy reforms. Conyers, whose district includes part of metropolitan Detroit, and U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., this year introduced the bankruptcy reforms in the so-called Fairness and Accountability in Bankruptcy Reorganizations Act.
One bill would allow the courts to consider the profitability of a company's foreign operations even if, like Delphi, it put only its U.S. operations in Chapter 11.
Gettelfinger said the legislation also would seek to close a loophole in current law that allows companies to pay executives what he called "obscene bonuses."
"Brothers and sisters, this is not just about Delphi. These vital reforms are needed to stop unscrupulous employers and their battery of bankruptcy vultures," Gettelfinger said to a standing ovation.
Gettelfinger remains angry at Delphi for its restructuring, despite agreeing to a plan last week that broadened an early retirement and worker buyout program to include all 23,000 UAW-represented workers at the supplier.
General Motors is paying for the program to try to head off a catastrophic strike at Delphi that would close its assembly plants within days. GM, which spun off its parts operations to create Delphi in 1999, is expected to spend more than $5 billion to reduce the supplier's work force through the buyouts.
In a speech to more than 2,000 convention delegates and hundreds of additional guests, Gettelfinger said union members need to be prepared for an additional 18 difficult months.
'We're going to keep fighting'
"Some people in management - along with some pundits and analysts - do not believe our union is up to the challenges we face today," Gettelfinger said. "Well, we've got news for them. We're going to keep fighting for what we believe in - at the collective-bargaining table, in the courts and the halls of Congress."
Although the UAW agreed to early retirements and buyouts at GM and Ford Motor Co., the companies cannot cut their way to prosperity, Gettelfinger said. Nearly 60,000 UAW jobs at the two companies are being cut.
Although the attrition programs will help get the workers to retirement or into new careers, the car companies need to focus on flex-fuel and fuel-efficient vehicles if they are to succeed, he said.
"It's all about product," Gettelfinger said.
He said the UAW introduced the principles of the "UAW's Marshall Plan" at the Automotive News World Congress in January. The plan would provide incentives to build flex-fuel and advanced-technology vehicles, such as hybrids and clean diesels.
Delphi, of Troy, Mich., ranks No. 2 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers with estimated worldwide original-equipment automotive parts sales of $24.10 billion in 2004, the last year figures are available.
You may e-mail Dave Barkholz at [email protected]