NEW YORK -- UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said today that he's a fan of Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler and Fiat, and also Ed Whitacre Jr., CEO of General Motors Co.
Why? Marchionne is not a “showboat,” Gettelfinger said.
Whitacre? “Same reason,” he said. “They're down to earth, not a showboat. This industry has had too many showboats.”
Gettelfinger, who is preparing to retire from the union's helm in June, spoke here today to the International Motor Press Association. He granted question-and-answer sessions before and after the speech.
He said it wasn't the union's fault that GM and Chrysler went bankrupt last year since in his view the union already had made big concessions in 2007 -- before high gasoline prices, the subprime mortgage meltdown and the credit crisis hit in 2008.
Gettelfinger also said the union itself does not have ownership stakes in GM and Chrysler.
“That's misunderstood,” he said. “We don't have an investment in GM and Chrysler. The VEBA [volunteer employee beneficiary association] has an investment in GM and Chrysler. It's set up with independent trustees, and there are more trustees [in charge] than there are union members.”
Gettelfinger also said he rated former Chrysler boss Dieter Zetsche's tenure at Chrysler poorly. Zetsche is now Daimler AG's chairman.
“He left it in bad shape. ... I think when he left, it is fair to say, it was not in good shape. ... They hadn't put product in the pipeline. ... We knew something wasn't right about it,” Gettelfinger said.
Gettelfinger said the UAW called it “the Valentine's Day Massacre” when Zetsche announced in 2007 that “all options were on the table,” signaling that then-DaimlerChrysler wanted to dump Chrysler.
In other comments:
• On CEO pay [all U.S. CEOs, not specifically automotive CEOs]: “In 1980, it was 40 times [what the ordinary worker gets paid], and now it's 344 times -- because some [CEOs] took a cut in pay to $6.5 million, something like that. People say we [UAW members] think we're entitled. The only thing we're entitled to is to work 58 minutes out of the hour, and at the end of the day we're working just as hard as at the beginning. Is anybody [among CEOs] working that hard? I'd like to see it.”
• On UAW health care concessions: “In my 45-year career the hardest thing I ever did was to say to retirees who had left after the companies promised them, after the union promised them, that they would have free health care for life, that we were going to pass costs on to them.”
• On whether organized labor and the UAW can make a comeback: “Our actual membership is about 385,000. In our best days it was about 1.5 million, but I haven't given up on it yet. As times are tough, people start reaching out. ... We're getting more and more interest in organizing efforts.”