UAW moves to help carmakers' cause

United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger speaks at a press conference after holding an emergency meeting with union officials from around the country today in Detroit. The union was discussing how it could help the beleaguered Detroit auto companies.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Carmakers are going to get a second bite at the bailout apple tomorrow in Washington. They're asking for about $34 billion in loan guarantees and lines of credit. Sooner rather than later, too. GM says it needs $4 billion to make it to New Year's.

At an emergency meeting today the United Auto Workers union decided to try to help carmakers make their case.

From Washington, Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Top UAW officials huddled in Detroit today. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger emerged from the meeting with two concessions. A delay in the automakers' payments to a union-run health-care trust, and scaling back a jobs bank that pays laid off workers salaries and benefits. But Gettelfinger said the union is not re-opening contract negotiations.

RON GETTELFINGER: We're not opening the contract, if you will. We make modifications, but then we take them back to the membership.

Still, after today's concessions, Detroit's Big Three will be able to put off billions of dollars in payments to the health-care trust. It will eventually assume some health care costs.

Dave Cole heads the Center for Automotive Research. He says the jobs bank concession is an important response to lawmakers. They criticized auto executives last month for paying idle workers.

DAVE COLE: So it's been this visible example of what people have felt is an abuse of labor. And so the elimination of that, symbolically, I think, is very important.

Jessica Caldwell is an auto industry analyst with Edmunds.com. She says it's hard to estimate how much the union concessions will save, but . . .

JESSICA CALDWELL: It's not going to be anywhere near what GM, Ford and Chrysler need to move forward and to become in the black, and get out of the red. But it's a good start.

Caldwell says the automakers will still need a jump-start from Congress. A message the auto executives and union will drive home in Congressional hearings tomorrow and Friday.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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