Gettelfinger, who has led the 640,000-member union since 2002, told the City Club of Cleveland on Friday that the health care crisis, the lack of a national industrial policy and the need for improved trade agreements are at the top of his agenda.
“We believe health care should be a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it,” he said of the union’s push for a national health plan that covers everyone in the country.
He also blamed the problems of American manufacturing on the lack of a cohesive national industrial policy to build up American manufacturing, which, he argued, has led to the movement offshore of entire industries.
“Unless we take action, we are going to see a continued decline in manufacturing industries,” Gettelfinger said.
Fair trade agreements, as opposed to what he said are current free trade policies, would press for a level playing field on issues such as employee and human rights.
He added that he was disappointed that the economic stimulus package recently approved by Congress did not included extended unemployment benefits for laid-off workers.
Gettelfinger also argued against what he described as the conventional wisdom that because of union work rules, nonunion auto plants in the U.S. operated by foreign automakers were more efficient than union plants.
Citing the respected Harbour Report of automotive manufacturing operations, he said, “Trained, experienced, union workers with a voice on the job add value to the manufacturing process.”