Gettelfinger scores a first-round win for labor

Note to Senate Republicans: Don’t underestimate United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger. The wily union president’s game of brinksmanship this week paid off. Last Thursday, he refused to give in to Republican demands that his workers take a pay cut next year. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that if the did, other Senate Republicans would clear the way for a bill that would have granted Chrysler and General Motors $14 billion in government loans. That would get them into next year without bankruptcy and let the Obama Administration work out a rescue plan. Bankruptcy would be a disaster for UAW since labor contracts can be rewritten in court.

Gettelfinger didn’t back down. He refused to cut a deal with the same Republican Senators who want his union to fold. And it worked. Instead, the Bush Administration gave in and said it stands ready to assist the carmakers with money from the Treasury Department. It just so happens that they have an extra $15 billion left in the Troubled Asset Relief Program to help Detroit.

Score one big one for Gettelfinger. In a press conference he even pointed out that Corker admitted the age cut was about Republican politics, not about the economics of saving the carmakers. He also didn’t think Corker could deliver the Republican votes to get 60 in the Senate and break a filibuster. Gettelfinger proved an artful player of Washington’s game.

There will still be concessions from the UAW. Either the Treasury Department will ask for them now as a condition for TARP funds or the Obama Administration and next Congress will demand that the union give more to get the next round of loans for the carmakers. But at least Gettelfinger can negotiate them with someone besides a southern Republican caucus that has it in for the UAW. And if Gettelfinger has to make concessions again, he has the political clout to sell it to his membership. After all, he just fought the good fight in the eyes of labor. And he won the first round.

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