By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT (Reuters) - Newly elected United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams on Thursday warned major U.S. automakers who negotiate with the union next year that he supports the financial health of the companies, but that "enough is enough" when it comes to concessions.
Veteran UAW auto workers at the three major U.S. automakers have not received a raise in nearly a decade and in recent contract talks the union allowed the creation and expansion of a two-tiered wage structure.
"It's our time," read most of the T-shirts worn by UAW delegates at the union's convention in downtown Detroit, a sentiment Williams echoed in his inauguration speech.
“No more concessions. We are tired of it. Enough is enough,” Williams yelled into a microphone in front of nearly 1,000 delegates.
As General Motors Co , Ford Motor Co and Chrysler, now a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles , endured a downturn in the auto industry, the UAW said it needed to take concessions to help them.
As Bob King, whose term as president ended this week, often said, UAW members have the most invested in the health of the companies, and acted to make them whole. Now, all three automakers, as well as heavy equipment makers like Caterpillar , are profitable.
"I want to work closely with the companies as long as it doesn’t hurt our members," said Williams. "I do not like confrontation, but I’m not afraid of confrontation."
"When companies are being successful, don't come to us and ask for ridiculous things," Williams said at a press conference.
While he said the UAW will not allow more concessions, Williams did not mention the two-tiered wage scale during his speech. Such a system pays veteran UAW workers at the major automakers about $28 per hour while newly hired workers at the same plants make less than $16.
Later, Williams told reporters, "We are all committed to eliminating the two-tier system," but said he has not yet formed a plan for doing that.
Earlier at the convention Thursday morning, President Barack Obama addressed the delegates by recorded video. He praised the work of King and welcomed Williams. He said he is close to Williams and that the new UAW president was one of his first supporters at the Iowa Caucus in 2008.
Williams also called on UAW members to get out the vote to maintain a Democratic White House in 2016 and said it was time to "bridge the gap" between the rich and poor in the United States.
Williams, 61, elected by landslide vote on Wednesday by the delegates, has said he will only serve one four-year term as president.
The UAW's three vice presidents will lead the union's work with major automakers. Cindy Estrada, 45, will work with GM; Jimmy Settles, 64, with Ford; and Norwood Jewell, 56, with Chrysler.
(Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid and Eric Walsh)
- Dennis Williams