The president of the United Automobile Workers said this morning that he is "hopeful" Congress and the Bush administration will be able to pass a federal loan for Detroit's automakers this week.
If a rescue plan is not passed, Ron Gettelfinger, UAW president, said the collapse of one or more of the Big Three automakers may be unavoidable.
"We would not have been in Washington if we didn't need assistance in the industry. And I fear a collapse of General Motors and possibly Chrysler. And it could have a very negative impact on Ford," Gettelfinger said in an exclusive interview on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
While lawmakers work to finalize a $15 billion aid package for the auto companies, union leaders are set to appear before Congress this week to bolster the automakers' appeal. A vote on the plan is anticipated later this week.
However, if the auto industry does receive a lifeline from the government, it will likely only sustain the Big Three through the early part of next year, when President-elect Barack Obama takes office. When asked about Obama's comments this morning that all stakeholders, including labor, have to recognize that the industry still lacks a sustainable business model, Gettelfinger pointed to the many concessions that the union has made to the autoworkers in recent years.
"From the standpoint of the UAW... in '05, mid-contract, we went to first base; '07, we went to second base. Just this past week, we went to third base.
"Nobody else is even in the ballpark yet," Gettelfinger said. He also noted that "I agree with President-elect Obama that all the stakeholders do need to come to the table."
Gettelfinger also addressed concerns by members of Congress that union members' wages and benefits should be brought in line with those offered by overseas companies that have opened profitable operations in the U.S.
"I'm not sure exactly what we mean when we say bring wages in line... I think the men and women of the UAW, who have worked so hard to help these companies succeed, have made numerous concessions up to this point in time," Gettelfinger said. "And we should be given some recognition and some credit for that."
Responding to suggestions that Obama has not done enough to forge an agreement on Capitol Hill, Gettelfinger said "we're satisfied with the process."
"I respect the leadership in the Congress, and I know they're working very hard with the administration. President-elect Obama has made it clear that we can only have one president in power at a time. I'm sure he's keeping his hand on the pulse of what's going on here. And I'm sure that he is, behind the scenes, having some input," he said.
Gettelfinger urged all the stakeholders to come together and review any across the board "sacrifices" that can be made.
"We all have to get in the same room together," he said. "And I'm saying board members, management, suppliers, dealers, creditors and the equity holders -- get in there together, and then let's all make equal sacrifice."