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UAW meeting may be key to ‘successful’ task force visit

UAW meeting may be key to ‘successful’ task force visit

Harry Stoffer

Automotive News | March 9, 2009 – 4:08 pm EST


General Motors and Chrysler LLC held show-and-tell events for a presidential task force in the Detroit area today. But a likely key to the trip’s ultimate significance was a meeting between panel members and UAW leaders.

While the union is negotiating additional concessions to automakers, some Washington officials still view labor costs as a stumbling block to a resolution of the U.S. auto industry’s precarious situation.

Today’s task force itinerary started with a two-hour meeting with UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and other union leaders, an administration source said.

Subsequent stops were the GM Technical Center in the Detroit suburb of Warren and a nearby Chrysler assembly plant.

The administration source declared the trip "successful."

The visit to Detroit signals that analysis is ending and politics is beginning, analyst John Casesa said.

“The UAW is an important stakeholder and a politically influential stakeholder,” said Casesa, managing partner at Casesa Shapiro Group in New York.

He said that if the administration succeeds in balancing economics and politics, “that will mean a compromise that makes none of the stakeholders happy.”

At the tech center, GM is developing the Chevrolet Volt, a range-extended plug-in vehicle considered key to the company’s future. The company also showed off a fuel-cell-powered concept.

The Chrysler plant builds the Dodge Ram pickup truck.

The Obama task force, led by senior advisers Steven Rattner and Ron Bloom, met with Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli, CFO Ron Kolka and Vice Chairmen Tom LaSorda and Jim Press, the company said.

Chrysler reviewed current and future product plans with the task force, including electric and hybrid vehicles, the automaker said in its statement.

GM meeting

At GM’s Technical Center, Bloom and Rattner met with CEO Rick Wagoner, COO Fritz Henderson and CFO Ray Young, Reuters reported, citing a person familiar with the visits.

In a statement, GM said: “We were pleased to host the task force so they could experience firsthand the new products and technologies that are an integral part of GM’s near- and long-term competitiveness. We look forward to continuing to support the efforts of the task force as they move quickly to address their critical tasks.”

The statement added: “We believe today’s visit provided a constructive glimpse of GM people, their passion for their work and the technology solutions that are behind the pages of our viability plan.”

The one-day trip to Michigan was seen as a crash course for task force members, none of whom has significant experience in the industry.

GM and Chrysler say they need more federal loans this month to keep operating. They have asked for as much as $21.6 billion, on top of $17.4 billion they have received. The government has until March 31 to determine if the automakers can become commercially viable, and if they should get the additional funds.

Suppliers say they need as much as $18.5 billion to keep crucial companies in the parts-making chain from failing.

The task force is overseen by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers. President Barack Obama wants the task force to determine whether GM’s and Chrysler’s restructuring plans assure their viability and make them good risks for loans from taxpayers.

The administration source said that the White House understands the need for both urgency and deliberation and that the task force will continue working “around the clock” on industry issues.

The task force, automakers and UAW did not schedule public events during or after the visits.

Bradford Wernle and Reuters contributed to this report.

  The UAW’s Gettelfinger: Key to a solution
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