In an impassioned press conference today, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger upped the ante in the auto bailout fight as he urged the White House and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to help prevent the "imminent collapse" of the auto industry by using TARP funds.
He spelled out a last-minute negotiating process in which he says the Senate GOP caucus blew up a compromise agreement hammered out by the White House and Sen. Bob Corker.
The UAW chief said they knew going in that negotiating with an individual senator was a difficult challenge - that Corker "really didn't have a knowledge of the industry."
"And then the other thing was, quite frankly, we wondered if we were just being set up," he told reporters. (Looks like there's something to that theory: Corker is now blaming the UAW, claiming the union refused to strike a deal because the White House made it clear they'd get the money, anyway.)
Who to believe? Hmm.
Gettelfinger said the UAW was willing to make further concessions, including the release of claims for equity in the comapny. "These agreed-to changes in the balance sheet would have made an enormous difference in the balance sheets of the company and largely solved their financial problems," he said.
But he blamed the Senate GOP caucus (populated by Southern senators who hate unions and whose states host non-union foreign car manufacturers) for rejecting that tentative agreement.
"Sen. Corker went so far as to say to us that the other discussions about wages were about politics in the GOP caucus."
The GOP caucus members first said they wanted to use Toyota as a benchmark, he said. The union responded that their research department was prepared to go in and review their wage structure, management pay, dealer and supplier contracts.
"That only would make sense to me instead of somebody saying, 'Here's the wage and that's what you have to agree to."
Without actually using the words, Gettelfinger made it clear that the GOP Senate caucus demands were about breaking the union.
He said they would treat workers differently from every other stakeholder in the process "instead of leaving it to the auto czar to work out the timetable and the mechanism for implementing sacrifices by all of the stakeholders. And the GOP caucus tried to mandate the precise restructuring terms for workers.
"In effect, that means that the GOP caucus was insisting that the restructuring had to be done on the backs of workers and retirees, rather than having all stakeholders come to the table.
"We could not accept the effort by the Senate GOP Caucus to single out workers and retirees for different treatment and to make them shoulder the entire burden of any restructuring."
He then called on the Treasury Secretary to use his authority to release TARP funds for the auto makers.
Responding to question from reporters, Gettelfinger said the union accounts for "just 10%" of labor costs. He said "even if workers worked for nothing," it would not help the Big 3 make it through January.
Keep in mind: the real religion of the GOP is cheap, disposable labor. They won't rest until all workers get below-subsistence wages without legal protections - a workforce that’s grateful for crumbs because they have no other options.