To the Editor:
UAW Vice President Don Ephlin certainly deserves a position of honor on Edward Lapham's UAW Mount Rushmore monument ("Today's UAW heroes see the big picture," Comment, Nov. 19). Ephlin's principle-centered leadership and vision have had a lasting impact on local union leaders like myself, Bob King and Ron Gettelfinger.
Except for his honor and principles, Ephlin would have been the president of the UAW in 1983. After his retirement, he confided to me that one UAW International executive board member offered to sell his vote in exchange for a self-serving deal. Ephlin refused the deal. The executive board member voted for Owen Bieber, who was nominated as president by one vote.
In late 1985, Ephlin asked me to implement the Saturn vision and memorandum of agreement. By 1991, Saturn's labor-management partnership and market success became the model for America.
In 1993, UAW Vice President Steve Yokich told me he had no intention of allowing Ephlin's legacy or the Saturn model to succeed or spread to General Motors.
Yokich eventually succeeded in killing the "Saturn experiment" by forcing GM to cut off new product capital for Spring Hill, but he couldn't kill the idea. The new 2007 UAW contract is an admission that the old, hard-line UAW strategy of "negotiating job security" by increasing the Big 3's labor costs was a failure.
The Ephlin philosophy recognized that the greatest threat to the job security of UAW members was an unprofitable company. That philosophy appears to have won out in this contract. He would be pleased.