Viewer Responses: Slamming Gettelfinger (And Us)

BY busadmin  June 2, 2009 at 10:39 AM EDT

Ron Gettelfinger; Getty Images

Paul Solman: Thursday’s interview with UAW president Ron Gettelfinger elicited some strong reactions from viewers, of which these email excerpts are but a sample:

Viewer 1: I have respected The NewsHour for years. I watched McNeil/Lehrer before that. To even give the complete disrespectful crooks of the UAW time on the air that we, as the public actually donate payment towards, is just without question disgraceful!…

Viewer 2: WEAK interview. Did not ask the tough questions. Let UAW head manipulate with answers. All other stakeholders have been held to account except UAW

Viewer 3: The United Auto Workers union. Oh my goodness. The UAW no doubt had a VERY large hand in killing GM. How do I know this? Simple. I graduated from High School in 1978 and while still in school I attended a family reunion with a good friend. His cousin from Atlanta GA worked for GM as a door hanger making $24 an hour BACK THEN, in the 70s! I certainly didn’t hear the interviewed gentleman quote what current workers are paid today. If that information was openly stated I know it probably would anger many. There is only one thing which can be said for the UAW: overpaid, overpaid, overpaid!…

Anticipating just such a reaction, I thought I HAD carried the flag for you — the irate — by citing you as ‘skeptics’ who “will say it’s the gold-plated benefits, it’s the high wages, they’ve been making out like bandits for years.” Watch the interview for his response.

But I also asked Gettelfinger specifically about UAW pay and we even discussed protectionism. Those items just didn’t make the final interview. Here, then, to mollify or further enrage are some of the “tougher” parts of the interview — “the basement tapes,” if you will.

PS: What does a typical autoworker make on the line now — $65,000 a year? Something like that?

RG: Well, it depends.

PS: When I talked to

was about $65,000 and one guy, with a lot of overtime, said he made over $100,000 [for] five years.

RG: One guy….

PS: But, still for our audience, that kind of money, in and around Detroit, looks like good money.

RG: It is good money and nobody is denying that, but let me tell you, those are tough jobs those people go in and do. Let me tell you. When people go into the facility, when that line starts in the morning, they work 57, 58, 59 minutes out of the hour. They can’t take a break unless somebody comes to relieve them and then we even gave up break time and people would go home literally and soak their hands so they can go back tomorrow and do that job again.

Look, those are tough jobs, and I would like to see everybody’s standard of living come up. What’s the idea here? That we bring everybody’s standard of living down? Is that what ‘global economy’ means? That’s a question we have to ask ourselves. I’ve been saying for a long time we’re in a race to the bottom that workers and no country can win.

And let me give you an example if you don’t mind. You can cut it out if you want but let’s take Electrolux. That’s not an auto plant. It’s a Swedish-based country that was right over here in Greenville, Michigan. Their wages were 14, 15, 16 dollars an hour. Now by today’s standard, that’s a good wage. They didn’t have any of these so-called “gold plated benefits” that the critics refer to. They had a very productive plant, they had a profitable facility and they had great labor relations. They closed that plant down and they moved it to Mexico and I [say] “they” meaning Electrolux.

The governor, the union, the local community, all made major concessions to the point where we were giving up $30 million/year in concessions and never even got a counter offer back because this company knew they could go to Mexico and they could pay a lot less wages, they could make more profit and guess what? They could ship the refrigerators back here to sell.

PS: What do you say to [a bondholder] who says: ‘Look I have a contract, I have a promise, I loaned money to General Motors’ — this is a retired tool-and-dye salaried worker and his wife — ‘We loaned money to General Motors, we were sure we were going to get our money back, this is our life savings, our retirement, and the union’s being favored over us.’

RG: Well that’s their opinion and I think the union has made a lot of sacrifice and there’s no question when it comes to equity distribution there’s always going to be a difference of opinion.

[A LITTLE LATER, GETTELFINGER BROUGHT UP THE ISSUE OF TRADE.]

RG: We’ve got to do something on these trade agreements. We have got to something about the unfair trade that exists in this country. Look. Tell me another industry where your competitor can come in to your country when you’re prohibited from going to their country, and they can come in, pit state against state, use taxpayer dollars to subsidize their investment, never have to repay it, and then they get to compete against you.

They also have the value of the currency intervention that they’ve been able to take advantage of for years and we sit here the most open market in the world. [Let’s] use South Korea as an example. President Bush negotiated, right before fast track expired, the US-Korean Free Trade Agreement. Now we can debate the numbers, but let’s say it’s in the neighborhood of 650-700,000 vehicles that South Korea sends back over here. They export…them here. Every manufacturer in this country, domestic and foreign, ships back less than 65,000. Let’s see — 650,000, 65,000 — now what’s fair about that? And we’re saying to these companies here, these domestic companies: You’ve got to compete against that. That’s not right! We need to fix it. And we’re not protectionist.

PS: Well, that’s I think what people usually mean by protectionist.

RG: Yeah, but they would say that we’re protectionist. We’re not. All we want is fair trade.

PS: Well, I’ve been doing this for 30-some odd years and [protectionists] always say: ‘We just want a level playing field.’

RG (LAUGHING): We do! We truly mean it!