UAW president talks to the U.P.

Lucy Hough

With the current recession, it’s easy to see how the automotive companies are hurting. Plants across the country have been closed, and people are losing their jobs at an alarming rate. The international union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) is doing what it can to save those jobs and give workers the rights that they deserve.

On Monday, Nov. 9, UAW president, Ron Gettelfinger, spoke to Northern students and Marquette community members, answering questions and discussing the current economy. He spoke not only about the automotive industry, but also the wide range of workers it represents.

“We have a very diverse membership, and we’re very proud of that,” Gettelfinger said.

The question and answer period was broadcast live to a group of people at Michigan Tech who were also able to ask questions. According to Sam Graci, interim head for the College of Business, collaborating with MTU is something that will be continued in the future.

“The Upper Peninsula is a relatively small geographic area, it just makes sense to share a few resources,” Graci said.

At his speech in the Reynolds Recital Hall, Gettelfinger focused on how people often have problems with unions, fearing that they are destroying the betterment of business by having such high expectations for workers. But Gettelfinger insisted that the UAW has the businesses’ best interests at heart, especially during negotiations.

Specifically with General Motors (GM), the UAW went into negotiations in 2005 and agreed to no pay increases until 2011. Since then, a number of other compromises have been made on the side of the UAW to make it easier for GM to continue operations.

“Workers have made a number of concessions,” Gettelfinger said. “That’s what the UAW and the men and women of these companies do to help [the companies] out . we want companies to thrive and grow.”

Gettelfinger discussed how important universal health care is for the United States. He said that one of the main things that workers complain about is paying for health care, and that the need is undeniable.

“We believe everybody should have health care . is a janitor any different than a CEO when it comes to being sick?” said Gettelfinger.

He said that he is pleased to see that something is being done and that President Obama is acting on what he ran on: change and making health care available to those who do not have it.

“We’re pleased to see something moving along those lines,” Gettelfinger said.

Gettelfinger also talked about the dilemma that automakers found themselves in when they had the option to produce smaller, more environmentally friendly cars, or larger cars which are more popular in America.

They chose to go on the side of consumers, but that may have lead to the trouble that the auto industry is in now.

“People like big here, and companies were caught in the middle,” Gettelfinger said. “It hurts them, not being able to change with the times.”

Zach Fix, a sophomore, pre-law, political science major, attended the speech not only for extra credit, but also because his hometown of Escanaba has many union workers.

“I didn’t realize how much [unions] have to do with working with the companies and with Washington, how much they cooperate,” he said.

According to Fix, he feels unions aren’t always the best for a business, but he went to the speech to hear what Gettelfinger had to say.

“I try to stay unbiased and get both sides of the perspective,” Fix said.