President Ron Gettelfinger’s
State of the Union Address
Thank you, Secretary-Treasurer Bunn, for
that kind introduction. And thank all of you, brothers and sisters,
for that warm welcome, and, for what you do everyday to keep our union
August 26, 2005 marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the UAW.
In recognition of that milestone, the theme of this, our 34th Constitutional
Convention, is “Honoring Our Past, Forging Our Future.”
We are pleased that we are joined at this convention by so many individuals
who helped build our union and who have stayed involved in our union’s
work -- our retirees from the local unions and area councils, our retired
staff and our retired regional directors and officers. Our heartfelt
thanks to all of you for being here and for your continued involvement.
On behalf of the International Executive Board, I want to thank our
former presidents, Doug Fraser and Owen Bieber, for their friendship,
their support and their wise counsel over the years.
Unfortunately, President Fraser couldn’t be with us this week,
but he asked me to convey his best wishes to all of you. This is the
first convention Doug Fraser has missed in 64 years, except one, when
he was serving our country in the military. We miss him and wish him
and Winnie good health.
Tomorrow we will be introducing all of our retired Board members, but
at this time I would ask President Bieber to stand for special recognition.
On behalf of all of us, I want to take this opportunity to express our
deep appreciation to the members of the IEB who will be leaving office
on Thursday: Vice Presidents Gerald Bantom, Nate Gooden, who could not
be with us due to health reasons, Richard Shoemaker and our Regional
Directors Bob Roth, Geri Ochocinska, and Phil Wheeler. Great trade unionists
and friends one and all.
Please join the IEB tomorrow evening, after the convention recesses,
at a reception honoring these dedicated individuals and their families
for their lifelong service to our union.
Thank you to Marcello Malentacchi, General Secretary of the International
Metalworkers Federation, for leading the delegation of international
guests from unions around the world. Thank you to each of you for representing
your union and your country at our Convention.
And, we want to acknowledge the president of the Staff Council of International
Representatives, John Grimes; the steward of our Newspaper Guild-represented
staff, Jennifer John: and the president of OPEIU 494, Tracy Komer.
Our staff does an excellent job as do our clerical and there is no better
example of our clerical than my personal assistant Patty Brady. Patty
does a great job of keeping me on schedule and keeping the president’s
office running smoothly. She is extremely efficient and does an excellent
job. Thank you, Patty, and thanks to all of our clerical and staff.
Over the last four years, it’s been the privilege and pleasure
of our Board to work with a great team.
And by team, we mean every one of you, every member of our union, active
and retired – our local union leadership – and our staff
and our clerical employees. We’re a team – all of us.
And, a remarkably diverse team as well. This convention is a reflection
of that diversity. Look around you – men and women from across
America, Canada and Puerto Rico -- industrial workers, health care professionals,
engineers, public employees, graduate teaching assistants, and more
-- a vibrant mosaic of color, ethnicity, and religious faith.
In many ways, we’re different – yet we’re united by
our shared values, hopes and dreams for a better world.
We show that by our commitment to our communities at every level of
our union. We showed it after the tsunami devastated southern Asia in
2004. UAW members immediately reached out to help.
And we showed it last year when hurricanes Katrina and Rita pounded
the Gulf Coast and the Bush Administration’s cold indifference
to the desperation and devastation was so evident.
UAW members and the rest of America stood up to help, while our government
We show it in the many ways our local veterans committees and our National
Veterans Advisory Council support and honor their fellow veterans.
Most recently, by donating money and volunteering their time to build
a two-family home at the VFW National Home for Children. It’s
named after Stephen P. Yokich and it’s the first new residence
built there in 40 years – and the first ever built by a group
outside the VFW.
And we show it every day in communities in every UAW region where our
members are volunteering at shelters, repairing homes for the elderly,
building playgrounds for children, organizing blood drives, building
wheelchair ramps, working with youth groups, and participating in efforts
such as United Way, March of Dimes, Habitat for Humanity, Toys for Tots,
Race for the Cure, and many more.
In the last four years, the International Executive Board has seen this
generosity first hand as we have held Board meetings in every region.
And, during our regional visits we talked with and listened to UAW members
young and old, active and retired, from every sector of our union.
We’ve been together on picket lines, in marches, on worksite tours,
in town hall meetings, at rallies, and in one-on-one conversations.
We’ve witnessed firsthand that UAW members’ determination,
idealism, courage, creativity and solidarity are as strong today as
That’s why we’re confident that together we can and will
meet the challenges of our day as we forge our future.
That’s not to suggest it’s going to be easy – it’s
The truth is we’re facing tough, complex challenges in every sector
of our union. Everything the UAW has fought for at the bargaining table
is under attack by a number of multinational corporations who want to
rip up our contracts and impose poverty-level wages on workers.
Everything we’ve fought for in the political
arena is at risk from those politicians who want to destroy the social
contract and roll back the clock on 70 years of social and economic
progress for working families.
Things that once seemed rock solid – jobs we’ve done and
done well, the retirement and health-care coverage we’ve earned,
our right to a collective voice in our workplace – are threatened
by many corporate CEOs, right-wing politicians and anti-union groups.
They don’t think twice about the consequence of shifting jobs
to Mexico, China, India and other low-wage nations. Or about what happens
to real people and real communities when companies misuse the bankruptcy
process to break promises to workers, retirees, customers, suppliers
What’s at stake is more than our paychecks and benefits. What’s
at stake is our shared vision of an America that lives up to its promise
of freedom, opportunity, dignity and social and economic justice for
all. That’s our American Dream.
Now, we know that many of those who measure their lives by the value
of their stock portfolios, the square footage of their homes in gated
communities, and their exotic vacation homes think our vision belongs
to a fading past that has no place in today’s global economy.
In fact, whether they say it publicly or not, they wholeheartedly agree
with Delphi CEO Steve Miller that American workers need to get over
the idea of having a middle-class lifestyle and resign themselves to
barely scraping by.
Some people in management – along with some pundits and analysts
– do not believe our union is up to the challenges we face today.
They think we’ve run out of gas intellectually and emotionally,
that we’ve lost our will, our creativity and our nerve. Some even
question our solidarity.
Well, we’ve got news for them!
We’re not going to surrender. We’re not going to lower our
sights, give up our dreams, or give up our fight for a better world
for our children and grandchildren.
We’re going to keep fighting for what we believe in … at
the collective bargaining table … in the courts … in statehouses
and the halls of Congress … in our communities … and where
push comes to shove, on the picket lines as our members have done in
the last four years at Peterbilt, Johnson Controls, Tenneco, CNH, NYU
and over 100 other locations.
The skeptics who say this is the “twilight of the UAW” –
that we’re “toast” – that our epitaph has already
been written -- don’t know who we are and where we came from.
Our union was born in hard times and built through struggle.
The founding convention of the UAW took place in the midst of the Great
It was common knowledge – shared by captains of industry and others
- that industrial workers were too downtrodden, too oppressed, too scared
to organize and conventional wisdom was that the giant corporations
of the day were too powerful and sophisticated for mere workers to take
Yet armed with their solidarity and their dreams of a better life, those
workers took on the mighty corporations and won a middle class lifestyle,
not just for themselves, but for millions of American working families.
As we look back on the accomplishments of our union, it’s worth
remembering that there were many difficult days when the odds were long
and success seemed uncertain – but solidarity saw us through.
Even as we adapt to changing times and circumstances, that same spirit
of solidarity – and the proven power of collective action –
ensure that the struggle is far from over for today’s workers,
both union and non-union, who are standing up for justice in their workplaces
As President Fraser said at our 1980 convention: “If there’s
one thing we know how to do, we know how to fight, we know how to survive.”
The point is that this union is no stranger to struggle, adversity and
hard choices. Our road has never been straight and smooth; it’s
had plenty of twists and bumps.
We’ve enjoyed our share of successes, but we’ve suffered
setbacks, too – and yet we keep going.
Only history can decide whether our challenges are greater than the
challenges faced by previous generations of UAW members.
But it’s clear today that our challenges are unlike any we’ve
faced in the past, largely due to globalization – and severely
flawed policies on trade, health care, workers’ rights, taxes
and other crucial issues.
In the not too distant past, when the U.S. economy grew and productivity
increased, we could expect wages to rise as well. That’s no longer
Over the last four years, our nation’s Gross Domestic Product
and productivity have grown – as have corporate profits overall.
Yet the vast majority of working Americans – salaried and hourly
alike – have seen their incomes stagnate or even fall. And more
Americans are living in poverty today than five years ago.
Obviously, economic statistics don’t tell the whole story.
And it’s not only union members or blue-collar workers who are
being squeezed. Major corporations have cut thousands of engineering,
customer service, information technology, and administrative and management
The U.S. economy is growing and workers are more productive, yet we’re
being told that we have to settle for a poorer quality of life and a
diminished future for our children in order to be globally competitive.
Of course, that rule doesn’t apply to the people at the top. The
average CEO now makes more than 350 times as much as the average worker.
And in 2003 alone, the average income of the top one percent of American
households increased by nearly $49,000 – that’s more than
the total income for most American households.
Now, you might expect the President and the Congress to do something
about that. And they are.
President Bush and Republican congressional leaders are pushing for
more tax breaks for millionaires.
It’s no wonder the people at the top of the economic ladder think
globalization is working just fine; they’re making out like bandits.
But it’s a different story in places like Greenville, Michigan,
where 2,500 UAW members had their lives turned upside down when Electrolux
closed their plant and moved their jobs to Mexico.
That is despite the workers’ well-earned reputation for quality
and productivity – and despite the profitability of the Greenville
It’s a different story in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, where UAW members
at the Murray plant saw their jobs shipped to China. And in Newton,
Iowa, where UAW members at Maytag are losing their jobs as a result
of a corporate merger.
Even workers in operations vital to our national defense are seeing
their jobs shipped offshore.
Steelworkers at the Magnequench plant in northwest Indiana once produced
the magnets used in missile guidance systems. Now their jobs are gone,
and the United States relies on China for these critical components.
We’ve seen these same stories unfold all across America. Manufacturing
jobs in textiles, auto, aerospace, farm and construction equipment,
home appliances, consumer electronics, bicycles, toys, pens, locks –
you name it – union and non-union alike, exported to Mexico, China,
Thailand, Vietnam, India and other low-wage nations.
In fact, since George W. Bush moved into the White House in January
2001, America has lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs.
And what is the President doing about it? Well, last year, he and the
Republicans in Congress, joined by a few Democrats, did yet another
NAFTA-style free trade deal – CAFTA.
And they’re not done.
This Administration is working on a free trade deal with Thailand that
could open the U.S. market to a flood of cheap Thai-built pickup trucks,
threatening the jobs of tens of thousands of American workers.
Those trade talks have been stalled by political turmoil in Thailand,
but we can’t afford to get complacent. Your efforts are making
a difference and all of us must remain alert and active in our fight
to defend jobs and stop this ill-conceived trade deal.
For four decades, the UAW has been a strong, clear voice for fair trade
– fair trade, not free trade.
There’s nothing “free” about a system where our trading
partners tolerate young children being forced to work 12 hours or more
a day; where union supporters are jailed, and workers are locked in
And let us make this point clear: Our fight has never been with workers
in other countries and it isn’t today.
Our fight is with those who want to give multinational corporations
free rein to pit workers in the advanced industrialized nations against
workers in the newly-industrialized countries in a brutal race to the
bottom that none of us can ever win.
Our fight is with those who believe corporate profits are more important
than workers’ rights, human dignity and decent environmental standards.
And our fight is for a global economy that works for working people
– that raises living standards, expands freedom, strengthens human
rights, improves our environment and lifts people up instead of shoving
From Long Beach to New York City; from Wallaceburg, Ontario to San Juan,
Puerto Rico; UAW members are facing challenges unlike any we faced in
the past. But it’s particularly true of the challenges we face
in the single largest sector of our union – the auto industry.
The U.S. auto market is the biggest and most open in the world. The
competition is intense, with every major global automaker fighting for
every tenth of a point of market share.
Since our last convention, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai and Kia have
all either expanded existing facilities, opened new plants, or announced
new plants in the United States.
The American auto market has been relatively strong – in fact,
there hasn’t been a single year since 1999 when sales have dropped
below 16.5 million units.
Yet the two largest U.S. automakers, General Motors and Ford, are losing
money in their North American auto operations, and have seen their credit
ratings reduced to junk status.
In addition, the Big Three’s combined share of the U.S. market
has dropped 16 points, to just 58 percent, over the last decade.
Obviously, that change is impacting automotive parts suppliers as well
-- in fact, since 2000, more than 160,000 jobs have been lost in the
Like it or not, these challenges aren’t the kind that can be ridden
out. They demand new and farsighted solutions – and we must be
an integral part of developing those solutions.
Earlier this year, President Bush brushed aside the notion that the
federal government should do anything to level the playing field for
the domestic automakers. He said they just needed to start building
Whether Mr. Bush realizes it or not, the problem isn’t “relevant”
products, it’s bad policies.
In January, we presented the UAW’s “Marshall Plan”
for the auto industry in a speech to the Automotive News World Congress.
The plan would provide incentives for all automakers and parts suppliers
to build flex-fuel and advanced technology vehicles, like hybrids and
clean diesels, and their key components right here in the United States.
This is a win-win. The government incentives would be returned through
increased payroll taxes generated through job creation.
Our plan can create tens of thousands of good jobs – the auto
jobs of the future – and, at the same time, jump start the production
and distribution of alternative fuels.
In addition, our plan can boost the sale of more fuel efficient vehicles,
reducing both our dependency on foreign oil and cutting greenhouse gas
It’s good for jobs, good for the environment and good for consumers.
This plan is attracting considerable interest on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately,
the Bush-Cheney Administration hasn’t shown much interest so far;
they’re more concerned about Big Oil’s agenda.
Never the less, we’re going to keep right on working and building
coalitions with enlightened political leaders in both parties …
and with environmentalists who share our belief that good jobs, a cleaner
environment and sustainable economic growth can – and must –
And, if we’re really serious about having a vibrant auto industry
– and a strong manufacturing base overall -- we also need new
approaches to trade and health care.
On President Bush’s watch, we’ve had an unbroken string
of record breaking automotive trade deficits.
This administration needs to step up to the plate and take action to
ensure equal access to overseas markets, the enactment and enforcement
of labor standards and environmental standards in our trade agreements
and an end to currency manipulation that puts U.S. automakers at a severe
It’s time to level the playing field.
Health care is another area where we are at a competitive disadvantage.
Yet, this president has stood on the sidelines as health care costs
soar out of control.
The United States, and some would argue South Africa, are the only industrialized
nations in the world without some form of national health care, and
our country is paying a high price for that failure.
The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country, yet we leave
46 million Americans uninsured – and millions more under-insured,
just one major illness or injury away from a financial disaster.
The UAW has long made the case that health care is a national problem
that demands a national solution. It’s not, as some people seem
to believe, something that can be “fixed” at the collective
For decades now, the UAW has been a staunch advocate of single-payer
national health insurance and we’re going to keep fighting to
make affordable, quality health care a right for every American.
In the 2003 national auto negotiations we were successful at preserving
health care. However, last year the financial situation at GM and Ford
was such that our retiree’s health care was at risk and I made
the difficult decision to negotiate an agreement to address the huge
and growing retirees’ health care liability carried by these companies.
We did an extraordinarily in-depth analysis of the companies’
finances and were convinced that action had to be taken now to secure
our retirees’ health care benefits in the long run. Over the course
of many long, hard weeks, we developed an approach that spared our retirees
and surviving spouses with low pension incomes from any cost shifting
- and, that kept costs to all our other retirees as low as possible.
And let me say that would not have been possible without our active
members at GM and Ford making sacrifices to subsidize the retirees’
health care costs.
Although we did the right thing, and in the right way,
it was still the most painful decision I’ve had to make as your
I commend Vice Presidents Richard Shoemaker and Gerald
Bantom, and their staffs, for crafting agreements that mitigated the
burden on our retirees and for the leadership they demonstrated, but,
let me say this clearly – I take full responsibility for this
Of course, that isn’t the only difficult situation we’ve
As you know, within the last eight months, GM and Ford announced restructuring
plans that include closing or downsizing two dozen plants and cutting
60,000 hourly jobs over the next few years. These actions are devastating
to workers, families and communities. Our union will continue to vigorously
defend the interests of our members affected by the restructuring.
Thanks to the bargaining power of our union, we have taken steps to
ease the pain of this extremely difficult situation. Many of our affected
members will be able to retire, and others are eligible for special
attrition programs that can help with a transition to new employment.
In the long run, however, shedding workers and shrinking production
capacity is not a winning strategy. As we’ve said many times,
these companies cannot downsize their way to profitability. It’s
all about product and the emphasis must be on Main Street, not Wall
We’re also in the fight to defend the interests of our members
at Delphi, Tower Automotive and other suppliers who are exploiting the
bankruptcy laws and using Chapter 11 as a weapon against workers.
In the case of Delphi there is no question this company is using bankruptcy
as a perverted business strategy to make certain executives, lawyers
and financial advisers wealthy at the expense of workers, investors
With the activism, support and solidarity of our local union leaders
and members, and the other unions involved, we are fighting the battle
at Delphi on every possible front. We lost a soldier and a valuable
contributor in this fight with the death last Monday of Henry Reichard,
chairman of the IUE-CWA Automotive Conference Board. We express our
condolences to his family and we will miss him. Henry was instrumental
in helping us to form the Mobilizing@Delphi Coalition with the IUE-CWA,
the Steelworkers, the IBEW, the Machinists and the Operating Engineers
to coordinate our efforts in this intense struggle against corporate
As a result, our membership has drawn support from the AFL-CIO, the
Change to Win Unions, the International Metalworkers Federation, members
of Congress and state and local officials and from unionized Delphi
facilities around the world. And, our active and retired members from
every sector of our union participated in a Democratic Congressional
Delphi e-Hearing on the Internet.
Our Delphi membership approved a strike authorization vote in May by
an overwhelming 95 percent majority.
In addition to participating in area informational pickets, rallies
and town hall meetings our union took part in a demonstration at the
bankruptcy proceedings in New York City.
Our legal team is second to none and they are defending the interests
of Delphi workers, going toe-to-toe with Delphi’s Wall Street
attorneys. Throughout this entire process, Vice President Shoemaker
has kept the local union leadership informed and up-to-date on each
development through regular meetings and by creating a Delphi Update
section on our website for our membership.
Delphi’s misuse and abuse of the bankruptcy process brings into
sharp focus the need to reform this nation’s bankruptcy laws and
reform them now. To that end the UAW is pushing for legislation to prevent
abuses of the bankruptcy process in the future. Senator Evan Bayh of
Indiana and Congressman John Conyers of Michigan have taken the lead
in Congress by introducing the Fairness and Accountability in Bankruptcy
This measure would deal with two of the worst abuses of the bankruptcy
process. First, it would close the loopholes that allow the executives
of bankrupt companies to give themselves obscene bonuses at the same
time they’re trying to slash wages and benefits for workers and
retirees. Second, it would allow judges to consider all of the financial
condition of a company’s operations – both foreign and domestic
– in determining whether it’s truly necessary to void collective
bargaining agreements, close plants, eliminate jobs and slash wages
In other words, a multinational corporation like Delphi couldn’t
exclude its profitable foreign operations from the court’s consideration.
Let me add that not all employers that are in bankruptcy fall into this
category. Collins and Aikman, Dana, and others are working with our
union and other unions to restructure without destroying their collective
bargaining agreements and eliminating retiree health care and pension
plans. And we applaud them for that.
But, brothers and sisters, this is not just about Delphi. These vital
reforms are needed to stop unscrupulous employers and their battery
of bankruptcy vultures. We need to stop dead in their tracks those who
would seek to void contracts with their workers while lining their pockets
with everything of value and uncaringly destroying lives, hopes, dreams,
and communities in the process.
Forty years ago, at our 1966 convention, Walter Reuther said, “We
can’t solve the challenges of tomorrow with the tools of today.”That’s
true of everything we do, of course – but it’s especially
true in organizing.
The challenges we face in organizing are immense. Today, workers may
no longer have to contend with armed thugs, but they do face President
Bush’s National Labor Relations Board …and a multi-billion-dollar
industry of union-busting lawyers and consultants…and right-wing
“think tanks” like the Heritage Foundation and the American
Enterprise Institute …and cynically misnamed organizations like
the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and a new front
group for anti-worker employers called the Center for Union Facts.
The pressure from anti-union forces to keep workers from having a voice
continues to mount. Those who want to destroy democracy in the workplace
that unions provide know there are many unorganized manufacturing workers
who want and need a voice on the job.
They know more and more workers in health care, on college campuses,
in auto dealerships, and in other service industries are showing more
interest in the security of a union contract. So the opportunities to
grow our union are there -- if we have the creativity and determination
to try new strategies and tactics. And that’s exactly what we’ve
been doing. Just days after the conclusion of our last Constitutional
Convention workers at four Johnson Controls plants that were critical
just-in-time suppliers to the Big Three went on strike.
Thousands of UAW members showed their solidarity with Johnson Controls
workers by joining them on the picket lines.
This united effort ended in victory after just two days, when Johnson
Controls agreed to a landmark neutrality and card-check pact covering
8,000 workers in 26 plants. Building on that momentum, we negotiated
similar partnership agreements with Collins and Aikman, Dana, Plastech
and others. And we’ve successfully used that approach in other
industries as well, notably at Freightliner Truck where workers at Freightliner
plants in Gastonia and Cleveland, North Carolina, have organized and
ratified first contracts.
Workers at Thomas Built Bus, a Freightliner-owned plant in High Point,
North Carolina, faced a harder road. Their card-check was challenged
by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the Bush
NLRB ordered an election. And when the workers voted for UAW-representation,
National Right to Work again challenged the result and the NLRB ordered
a second election, which workers again won.
So, to all those so-called experts who say workers in the South don’t
want unions, we say look at the UAW members at Thomas Built Bus who
stood up to intense opposition from right-wing business groups in their
community to sign up once, and vote two additional times for their union.
And to those who say unions are bad for the business climate, we’d
point out that Freightliner has expanded and added jobs in its UAW-represented
Although we’ve had breakthroughs in the parts and heavy truck
sectors over the past four years, we frankly have not made that kind
of progress at Honda, Nissan, Toyota and the other foreign nameplate
But we have not given up, and we don’t intend to. We’re
trying new approaches, some subtle and others not so subtle, at each
location to reach out to workers in all those plants.
Under very difficult circumstances, many of those workers are trying
to build support among their co-workers for organizing. We salute them
for their courage and determination. And we will continue to support
them in their efforts to win a strong collective voice in their workplaces.
Our union is trying new strategies in the Technical, Office and Professional
sector as well. In California and Washington State our team worked with
our allies to pass legislation that gives academic student employees
– graduate teaching assistants, research assistants, and others
– the right to organize and bargain collectively.
As a result our 11,000 members in the University of California system
have been joined by 4,000 academic student employees at the University
of Washington and by 6,000 academic student employees in the California
State University system. Together with our members at such universities
as the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, they make the UAW the
largest union of academic student employees in the nation.
Our union also had a tough but ultimately successful struggle at The
New School University in New York City, where the adjunct part-time
faculty members finally prevailed against the university’s stall-and-delay
legal maneuvering. Their solidarity and determination paid off with
landmark job security protections and better pay, benefits and a grievance
But we’ve also suffered setbacks in the TOP sector – not
because of any lack of commitment or solidarity on the part of our members,
but because of right-wing political attacks on workers’ rights.
Not long after an NLRB decision in 2000 gave academic student employees
at private universities the right to organize and bargain collectively,
academic student employees at New York University joined our union and
won a solid first contract.
Their counterparts at other private universities took notice and organizing
drives at other campuses were launched. This effort was going well --
until the new Bush appointees on the NLRB reversed existing policy and
stripped academic student employees at private universities of collective
bargaining rights on the grounds that they weren’t really employees.
That ridiculous, politically-motivated decision has not only made our
organizing efforts at other private universities more difficult, it
resulted in New York University refusing to bargain a new contract with
our members at NYU. The fight at NYU isn’t over, however. Our
members there have gone out on strike, held numerous demonstrations
and protests against the university’s high-handed, anti-worker
actions, and they’re going to keep on fighting for fairness.
NYU isn’t the only place where political change has resulted in
workers being stripped of their right to bargain collectively. In January
2005, in his first full day on the job, Indiana’s Governor Mitch
Daniels took collective bargaining rights away from state employees,
including 14,000 members of the UAW/AFT Unity Team.
And newly-elected Republican governors in Kentucky and Missouri stripped
state employees of their bargaining rights.
These acts of defiance toward workers and their unions clearly shows
the relationship between the bread box and the ballot box. So, we’ve
got to make it clear to all the candidates who seek our support that
we see the right to organize and the right to bargain collectively,
in the public and private sector, as a basic human right – and
as a top priority.
And, for those who are running for the House and Senate, we need to
let them know that the way to support workers’ rights is to support
the passage of the Employee Freedom of Choice Act. But we’re not
sitting back and waiting for the law to change. We are, as I said before,
trying new organizing strategies and tactics – and they’re
producing results in both the industrial and TOP sectors of our union.
In fact, we’ve added more than 66,000 new members to the UAW family
through organizing victories and the affiliation of independent unions.
In today’s extraordinarily hostile environment, that’s no
small accomplishment. But, obviously, we must do more.
The reality is that our organizing gains simply haven’t been enough
to make up for the members we’ve lost due to restructurings, closings,
outsourcing, and privatization. Last year, the UAW’s active membership
was just under 600,000 – down from nearly 676,000 in 2002. Needless-to-say,
the decline in our active membership means that our dues revenues have
At the same time, the International Union -- like other organizations
-- has had to deal with rising costs.
In personal life, as well as with your financial experience in the local
union, you know where the trend of falling revenues and rising expenses
leads. Many, if not most, of you have had to make tough choices. Your
International Executive Board has been doing that, too.
The fact is that a union of 600,000 active members can’t operate
the same way it did years ago as a union of more than a million members.
We have a responsibility and, more than that, a moral obligation to
use our dues money efficiently and prudently – in other words,
to exercise sound financial stewardship. And all of us take that obligation
seriously. Over the past four years, we’ve taken steps to streamline
operations, reduce spending, and focus more closely than ever on servicing
our members and organizing. We have reduced, though attrition, the International
staff and the number of our clerical employees by approximately 20 percent
from the end of 2001 to the end of 2005.
Although vacancies created by attrition are no longer filled automatically,
we have been making targeted hires in priority areas like organizing.
And we’ve made hard choices like closing 14 sub-regional offices
since the last convention. We’ve reduced spending on conferences,
meetings and air travel. One of the things we have not done is tap into
the $75 million emergency fund our delegates created four years ago.
In fact, that fund has grown to $89 million.
This fund was not intended to let us avoid tough choices but to maintain
the essential operations of our union and allow us to service our membership
in the event of a crisis. As we look to the future, one of our responsibilities
is to insure that our union is on sound financial ground and to make
sure that we have the resources to defend our members and to grow our
union through aggressive organizing efforts.
Your Constitution Committee will be making a proposed change for your
consideration during this Convention to insure that we can continue
to meet those challenges.
Former President Stephen P. Yokich always reminded us that the UAW isn’t
just a collective bargaining agent; we’re part of a social movement.
Throughout our history, the UAW has been a strong, clear voice for progressive
economic and social policies. Many times, we’ve been a lonely
voice, taking on issues long before they were popular, challenging the
conventional wisdom – and, yes, taking on powerful politicians
in both parties.
When Walter Reuther led our union into the struggle for civil rights:
When Leonard Woodcock fought against discrimination on the job and in
When Doug Fraser led the fight for labor rights:
When Owen Bieber fought for the release of Nelson Mandella;
And, when Steve Yokich led the fight against Permanent Normal Trade
Relation with China;
It was the right thing to do. They stayed the course and never backed
down and neither will we.
Last September, Hurricane Katrina laid bare the failed policies, misplaced
priorities and broken promises of President Bush. The truth was there
for all to see. This president has failed, and failed miserably, to
attend to urgent business here at home. Meanwhile he has pursued a reckless,
go-it-alone foreign policy that led our country into a war in Iraq with
no exit strategy. Not long ago, President Bush was asked when our troops
would start coming home from Iraq. His response? That’s up to
the next president.
Well, we can’t afford to wait until January 2009 to set a new
course for America. We have a window of opportunity in this year’s
elections to put America back on the high road. It will take all of
us, working together, to gain back the House and Senate this November.
We must grasp this election year with the determination that we can
and will make a difference this fall.
But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s going to take commitment,
dedication and a lot of hard work. The right-wing, anti-worker forces
that have controlled Washington for the past five and one-half years
aren’t going to give up power without a fight. And make no mistake;
nothing would make them happier than seeing the UAW retreat from the
political arena. We are not going to do that – not now, not ever.
The UAW was born fighting for workers’ rights – for the
right to organize and bargain collectively, but more than that, for
the right to play an active role in our democratic society. It’s
never been about one of us, but all of us, and the UAW’s vision
has never been limited to the workplace and the bargaining table. We
are going to stay true to that vision and keep the faith with the generations
of UAW members who came before us. We’re going to keep up the
fight for social and economic justice.
We ‘re going to continue to work to make health care a fundamental
right for every man, woman and child in America and push for fair trade
policies and for workers’ rights at home and abroad. We’re
going to continue to push for good schools, safe neighborhoods, and
a clean environment. The passion of the labor movement fills this arena
today. We must continue to feel this passion in our hearts. Because,
America is a union. And America needs her unions to stand against those
who would divide us into two Americas and destroy the voice of working
Sisters and brothers, we are going to honor our past and forge our future
by continuing to fight for workers, not only in America, but in Canada,
Puerto Rico, and around the world. It is our responsibility, our obligation
and what we do best as UAW members!
Solidarity! Solidarity! Solidarity forever!