UAW: Inaction On Bailout 'Not An Option'

United Auto Workers union president urged lawmakers to act immediately on loans for U.S. automakers, saying one or more of them could collapse by the end of the year without it.

DETROIT (AP) -- United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger urged Congress and the Bush administration to act immediately on loans for U.S. automakers, saying one or more of them could collapse by the end of the year without it.

Gettelfinger spoke at a Detroit news conference just as reports surfaced that a bipartisan group of auto-state senators had reached a compromise on bailing out Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp.

The union president called on Congress to vote on the loans on Thursday, but that appeared unlikely. Congressional officials say Democratic leaders have decided to put off a bailout vote until December and will insist that the automakers first come up with a plan showing how the money would help transform their industry.

The Detroit automakers have been seeking government loans totaling $25 billion to stay in business until spring. Critics want to make sure the companies will use the money to transform their industry into one that is more competitive.

But Gettelfinger warned of dire consequences if the money does not come immediately.

"Inaction is simply not an option," he said. "Without immediate assistance, we could see, and I stress could see, a collapse of one or more of the domestic auto companies by the end of this year. The costs that would flow from this are simply too great."

He repeated statements he and the CEOs of the Detroit Three made in Capitol Hill testimony earlier this week that a collapse could cost 3 million jobs, plus endanger the pension and health care benefits of 1 million retirees.

As word of the compromise filtered into the news conference, Gettelfinger said he didn't want to speculate on its contents.

Although he maintained that the UAW has given up numerous concessions to the automakers since 2005, he did not shut the door on further changes.

"The UAW is at the table," he said. "We're at the table every day and we would welcome all the other stakeholders to the table to make some concessions."

Gettelfinger said the UAW has talked with automakers and made changes to contracts while they were in effect, most recently in 2005.

Warning of economic disaster, Democrats and Republicans from auto industry states reached a deal Thursday on an alternative package that would temporarily divert money from a fuel-efficiency loan program to cover the Big Three's immediate costs. But it was unclear whether it could draw enough support to pass.

The group, led by Sens. Carl M. Levin, D-Mich. and Kit Bond, R-Mo., scheduled a news conference to announce details.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., earlier Thursday canceled plans for a vote on a bill to carve $25 billion in new loans out of the $700 billion Wall Street rescue fund. The Bush administration and congressional Republicans oppose that plan.

At the news conference, Gettelfinger fended off a line of questioning about whether the UAW would be willing to give up the "jobs bank" if required by Congress as a condition of the loans. In the "jobs bank," laid-off workers receive 95 percent of their pay and benefits.

He said the union has limited the banks and reduced their size over the years, especially in the new contracts reached with all three automakers last year that included lower wages for new hires and a union-administered trust fund that will take over retiree health care expenses in 2010.

"We're on the verge of eliminating that provision," he said of the jobs bank.

But Gettelfinger would not say if the UAW would agree to eliminate it completely as sought by some in Congress.

"It's premature for me to answer a speculative question. Let's wait and see ... what they come down with and then we'll make a decision at that point in time.”

More in Operations