Sen. Kennedy’s death means unions lose a key ally

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sen. Kennedy’s death means unions lose a key ally

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau


He was a staunch supporter of efforts like the Employee Free Choice act to make it easier for unions to organize, but wasn’t afraid to take on automakers.

"The country has lost a great leader; the Senate has lost a master legislator; and UAW members have lost a devoted friend and true partner in the fight for social justice," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said. "Time and again, Ted Kennedy raised his strong voice on behalf of working families and minorities."

Kennedy was one of 13 Senate cosponsors of the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, the bill that created the Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements that were opposed by automakers.

Early in his Senate career, he took on General Motors Corp. for spending a fraction of its profits on safety advances.

Kennedy was critical in recent years of automakers for not doing more to boost the fuel efficiency of automakers. "The most important single step we need to take to reduce our dependence on foreign oil is to improve fuel-economy standards for automobiles and trucks, but Congress rolled over and refused to act on this issue once again," he said in 2005.

But he had close relations with the UAW, speaking to a meeting of the union in Washington in 2008.

The Massachusetts Democrat got a rousing reception, reminding members of the service of his two brothers on House and Senate labor committees, as well has his son, Patrick, and nephew, Joe.

"That’s 82 years of Kennedys for labor," he said. "I don’t intend to give up as long as I have a voice and a vote."

He said then the Bush administration has been the most anti-labor since he came to the Senate in 1962.

"You’ve had the deck stacked against you," Kennedy said, referring to a string of recent rulings by the National Labor Relations Board. "We’re constantly having a war against unionism…. You and your members are paying the price."

Kennedy didn’t always see eye to eye on some issues. He said a pension bill that saved 31,000 companies more than $ 80 billion in immediate pension contributions.

"President Bush should be embarrassed to sign this unfair and spiteful bill," Kennedy said.

But Detroit automakers and the UAW had urged support for the bill to reduce their immediate pension bills.

— Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was a long-time forceful advocate for organized labor, but often butted heads with automakers.

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