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Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - Page 10 News List

US auto union chief pleads for help as lawmakers debate

DIVIDEDThe UAW is willing to consider more concessions as part of new federal aid, the UAW chief said, but others need to share in the sacrifice

AP , WASHINGTON

The head of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union made a public plea on Sunday for government help for US carmakers as the Big Three put the final touches on stabilization plans to submit to Congress.

“We cannot afford to see these companies fail,” said Ron Gettelfinger, the UAW chief, calling on Congress to approve the aid during a special session next week.

Gettelfinger said a US$25 billion rescue plan for the carmakers is “not a bailout, this is a loan — a bridge loan — that will get us through until we can take a longer-term look at exactly what needs to be done in the industry.” Democratic leaders are demanding blueprints from Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Co and General Motors Corp before they will schedule votes on any new federal aid. The plans, due today, are to be scrutinized at a Senate hearing tomorrow and a House hearing on Friday.

If lawmakers like what they see, Congress may reconvene the following week to consider the auto bailout.

Members of Congress remain deeply divided on the aid, with many in both parties wary of supporting another costly government rescue on the heels of the US$700 billion Wall Street bailout.

Senator Lindsey Graham said he would not back the help for the US auto industry.

“I don’t believe it is a good idea to take US$25 billion and give it to the three major car companies, which I think have a business plan that’s doomed to fail,” he said.

Like many Republicans and some Democrats, Graham said it would be better to allow one or more of the struggling companies to go under and restructure in bankruptcy.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said she’s willing to consider an auto bailout, but not before she Congress gets a clear accounting of the companies’ financial situation.

“We need to behave like a bank,” McCaskill said. “And we need to make sure that we get all of those internal financials and that we feel comfortable that this is a good investment for the American taxpayer.”

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow on the automakers’ plans. The House Financial Services Committee has set a Friday session.

“They have to show a plan that shows that the US$25 billion gets them to the point of viability,” said Senator Robert Menendez, a member of the Senate committee. “They have to show us a plan of how they’re going to restructure their industry. They have to show us a plan about not opposing higher fuel efficiency [standards]. If they do those things, there will be support for them.”

The UAW is willing to consider more concessions on wages and benefits as part of any new federal aid, Gettelfinger said, but other parties have to share in the sacrifice.

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