UAW grants concessions, exec warns of depression
DETROIT (AP) - Worried about their jobs and warned that the cost of failure could be a depression, hundreds of leaders of the United Auto Workers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to make concessions to the struggling Detroit Three, including all but ending a much-derided program that let laid-off workers collect up to 95 percent of their salaries.
"Everybody has to give a little bit," said Rich Bennett, an official for Local 122 in Twinsburg, Ohio, representing Chrysler workers. "We've made concessions. We really feel we're doing our part."
Union leaders also agreed to let the cash-starved automakers delay billions of dollars in payments to a union-administered trust set to take over health care for blue-collar retirees starting in 2010.
In addition, they decided to let the Detroit leadership begin renegotiating elements of landmark contracts signed with the automakers last year, a move that could lead to wage concessions.
The vote came on the eve of congressional hearings on as much as $34 billion in loans that General Motors and Chrysler say are critical to their survival. Ford has said it may be able to hang on through 2009 without additional credit.
Democratic congressional leaders say they want to act to prevent one or more of the automakers from collapsing, but they have made no commitments to approve an unpopular bailout at a time of economic peril.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said a Democratic plan to tap the Wall Street rescue fund to save U.S. automakers does not have the votes to pass.
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said the union must help persuade Congress to offer the loans or risk destroying what he said is the country's economic spine.
"Let's look at the backbone and the millions of jobs lost if we lost this industry," he said.