DETROIT -- UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said this morning that he gave his farewell speech yesterday with some sadness, but he believes his proposed successor, Bob King, will bring an aggressive approach to growing the union.
Interviewed before the start of the second day of the UAW National Constitutional Convention here, Gettelfinger said yesterday's speech was not his best because he won't be in a position to follow up his call to action after he retires this week.
"It was not one of my better speeches because things are coming to an end. I'm not talking about where we are going in the future," Gettelfinger said as he greeted delegates before today's program.
"It was a farewell speech," he said. "And I especially wanted to let the men and women of the UAW know how much I appreciate them giving me this opportunity."
Gettelfinger, elected to the first of two terms as president eight years ago, has guided the UAW through perhaps the most tumultuous period in the union's 75 years of existence. As the Detroit 3 has shrunk and closed plants, UAW membership has fallen from about 575,000 when Gettelfinger, 65, took the helm in 2002 to about 355,000 today.
Gettelfinger said King, 63, is an aggressive, high-energy leader who has been on the executive board of the UAW since 1989.
"He knows that we need to find a way to grow the union," Gettelfinger said.
King is expected to be elected Wednesday to replace Gettelfinger. He has served as vice president of the UAW Ford department.
Gettelfinger said his days of pushing the union's agenda to the companies and Congress are about over. But he will be around in retirement to advise as needed.
Said Gettelfinger: "One thing about the UAW is that you never retire from being a member."