Jeff Gilbert
WWJ AutoBeat Reporter

After four very difficult years, that have seen a lot of concessions, the United Auto Workers Union has begun the effort to gain a piece of some of the newfound profits at the domestic automakers.

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“We are going to fight for every possible thing for our memberships we can get in every set of negotiations we’re in,” said UAW President Bob King, speaking to the union’s bargaining convention in Detroit. “Where we’ve given concessions, we’re going to try to get as many of those back as we possibly can.”

King admitting that they won’t win back all concessions, but said new investments and new jobs would be a top priority. That was also the message of the 1200 delegates to this convention.

“Keeping people in jobs,” said one delegate, when asked about her priority. “Keeping jobs in America.”

WWJ’s Jeff Gilbert spoke with auto workers at the convention:

This three day meeting, gives UAW leadership a sense of the priorities of union members, as they begin the formal talks this summer. Workers for all three companies gave up significant concessions as the industry struggled through the recession. Now, GM and Ford are making money and Chrysler is reaching the break even point.

“We just want to quit losing,” said Lloyd Milliorn, a delegate from Ohio. “We’ve been losing way too much over the last few years. We want to keep what we’ve got. Keep going. I know the companies making a lot of money. We just want to get a share of it.”

The big question in this years talk remains just how the workers get a share of profits, while keeping the auto recovery going. UAW President Bob King said that will also be on the minds of those doing the negotiating.

“If we bargain too much in fixed costs with the companies that we do have representation, and we make them non competitive, then we shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said.

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With no strike deals at both Chrysler and General Motors, many analysts feel that Ford will be the target this year. It’s not only the most profitable domestic auto company, but Ford also recently gave large stock awards to its top executives.

“When an Alan Mulally can make over fifty million dollars in a bonus, temporary workers have a right to a job, and decent wages and benefits,” said King in the only angry comment aimed directly at a major automaker.

King spoke for an hour and twenty minutes, mostly aimed at rallying UAW members to participate more in organizing and social justice. He promised a social justice event later in this meeting.

Workers head into the contract talks with a realistic attitude.

“It’s a fight,” says Chrysler worker Timothy Davenport . “It starts at the bottom, and work our way back up. We had a lot of things in the past. Right now, I think it’s time for us to get a little bit back.”

The union staged brief strikes against GM and Chrysler in 2007, but did not strike Ford. Both current President Bob King, and his predecessor, Ron Gettlefinger, came up through the Ford ranks.

Contract talks will begin in the summer. The union traditionally chooses one company to take the lead around Labor Day, and uses that contract as a pattern for the other two.

The current four year deal expires in mid-September.

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Jeff Gilbert will be covering the UAW bargaining convention. You can follow him on twitter @jefferygilbert