DETROIT — UAW President Ron Gettelfinger has a tough job ahead of him — and he says the government's silence is making it tougher.
"It's confusion," Gettelfinger told Automotive News last week, days before his bargaining team begins talks on contract concessions meant to keep the Detroit 3 out of bankruptcy. "I don't know who to ask questions of."
The problem: Government loans made to General Motors and Chrysler LLC require the companies to cut labor costs, change factory rules and provide equity — rather than cash — for half the funding of retiree health care trusts negotiated with the UAW in 2007.
Loan provisions also say a UAW strike would put the companies in default — another reminder to both sides that they must reach an agreement.
But Gettelfinger grouses that many of the loan demands are ambiguous, and nobody on the government side has said what the union is expected to do. And he doesn't know whom to ask.
"But, having said that, we're going to work our way through it and find out what it means," he said. "The industry is too important for us to just say it's too confusing and we can't do anything about it."
Gettelfinger is meeting with his bargaining teams in Detroit before starting contract talks. A GM spokesman said the company is talking daily with the UAW, but there is no start date for bargainers to meet across the table, said GM spokesman Tony Sapienza. Chrysler also has been talking regularly with the union but is not discussing details, said spokeswoman Mary Beth Halprin.
Although Ford Motor Co. has received no government loans, it likely would want workers to accept similar concessions.