DETROIT -- The UAW leadership faces an undercurrent of rank and file restiveness this week at its national constitutional convention in Detroit.
Outgoing President Ron Gettelfinger has cautioned the membership that the purpose of the convention is to elect new officers and review policies, not set the agenda for next year's bargaining with the Detroit 3.
But the leadership can expect opposition, said Gary Walkowicz, a UAW bargaining committeeman at Ford Motor Co.'s Dearborn, Mich., truck plant. Last week Walkowicz announced that he would run for UAW president against prohibitive favorite Bob King. Last fall Walkowicz spearheaded a successful grass-roots campaign to stop additional national concessions to Ford last fall.
"The rank and file are restless," he said. "There are issues that need to be addressed, like when we'll get back concessions and the status" of Detroit 3-funded, UAW-run health care trusts.
In an interview last month, Gettelfinger said he expects to hear some discontent, given the sacrifices made by hourly employees and retirees to get the Detroit 3 through last year's recession.
"Obviously there will be some differences of opinion," he said. "But in reality, people know where we are and how we got there. They know we had to make sacrifices, and people ratified them at the time."
King, the UAW's Ford vice president, is expected to be elected to succeed Gettelfinger at the convention. Gettelfinger, 65, is retiring.
King, 63, will inherit a union shrunken by plant closings, retirements and worker buyouts over the past four years. At the time of the UAW bargaining convention in Las Vegas in 2007, the union had 576,000 active members. Today the number is fewer than 400,000 and probably closer to 350,000.
King said recently that the rising profits of the Detroit 3 should begin to result in workers winning back some of the bonuses and benefits they have lost since 2006.
Walkowicz, a convention delegate, said he'll be listening for clues on how the union intends to get those back.