UAW Was 'Solely' to Blame for Collapse of Auto Industry Bailout Negotiations, Says Sen. Coburn

By Josiah Ryan | December 12, 2008 | 12:42 PM EST

United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger holds up a document during a news conference in Detroit, Friday, Dec. 12, 2008. A relieved Gettelfinger said he's happy that the White House appears poised to step in and rescue the beleaguered auto industry, and he accused GOP senators who blocked emergency loans of trying to "pierce the heart" of organized labor. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

( - The United Auto Workers (UAW) union is “solely” to blame for the collapse of negotiations on a $14-billion auto bailout deal that stalled in the Senate Thursday, Sen. Tom Colburn (R-Okla.) told on Friday.
But UAW President Ron Gettelfinger in a press conference Friday morning blamed Republican senators, who he said resented his organization.
The auto bailout bill, which passed the House in a 237-170 vote on Wednesday, was defeated in a 52-35 procedural vote in the Senate late Thursday night after negotiations between automakers, the UAW, and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) fell apart.
“As far as the failure of last night, it solely lies on UAW,” Coburn told “All we asked was, ‘Just give us a date at which you will have competitive wage rates. We will put it in and that’s what you will have to meet.’ They would not move. They would not renegotiate their contract with GM as far as wage rates.”
Coburn was referring to an amendment crafted by Corker that would have required the auto makers to reduce their labor costs to a level equal to the salaries paid by non-unionized foreign auto companies operating in the United States, firms such as Nissan, Toyota and Honda.
Gettelfinger, however, blamed senators like Coburn who opposed the bailout.
“Corker admitted to our people on the ground that they [concerns about pay] were largely about politics within the GOP caucus,” said Gettelfinger. “There is no question that the UAW has demonstrated leadership in this process. There were some in the Senate, who, we felt, resented that.”
Gettelfinger also said that since financial workers were not asked to make concessions in the $700 billion bailout, senators were applying a double standard to the UAW.
Before Thursday’s vote, Coburn told that he thought the domestic auto companies would never be viable without the kind of sacrifices called for in Corker’s amendment.
Coburn, however, also said that he does not blame unionized labor for the financial difficulties of the automakers.
“I don’t put the blame of their long-term troubles on the UAW,” Coburn told “I put it on the management of the auto companies who signed ridiculously expensive contracts with the UAW.”
But Dan Griswold, director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the free market Cato Institute, told on Friday that the UAW is, in part, to blame.
“UAW contracts have played a big role in pulling automakers into the crisis they now face,” said Griswold. “Those contracts are the single biggest difference between domestic and foreign-owned competitors operating on U.S. soil.”
Griswold also said that it was the UAW’s “adversarial attitude” in the bailout negotiations that caused the talks to collapse.
In Thursday’s Senate vote, three Democrats sided with 31 Republicans in opposing the bailout.