Facing the loss of tens of thousands of unionised, blue-collar motor industry jobs in coming years, the head of the United Auto Workers has called for a more collaborative approach to the deep-seated problems facing the US industry, including high health care costs, according to Reuters.

"The challenges we face aren't the kind that can be ridden out. They're structural challenges and they require new and farsighted solutions," UAW president Ron Gettelfinger reportedly said in his report to a union convention that convenes on Monday and will elect a new leadership team.

The news agency noted that UAW meeting in Las Vegas comes at a pivotal time for the US motor industry as union has membership has fallen by more than 77,000, or 12%, since 2002, and more sweeping job cuts are on the horizon with 60,000 posts being axed by General Motors and Ford.
"The fact that our biggest employers are losing sales and share has serious implications not only for our members there, but also for those employed in their respective supply chains, and for our entire union," Gettelfinger said, according to the report.

Reuters noted that, as a crucial round of contract talks with US automakers is less than a year away, analysts are watching the UAW convention this week to see what the incoming leadership signals about its approach to those negotiations.

Under Gettelfinger, who is expected to be easily re-elected to another term as president, the UAW has shown a willingness to negotiate cost-cutting deals that US motor industry executives say are needed to stave off deeper financial problems.

The UAW last week reached a deal with Delphi that offers all the components maker's UAW workers payouts of up to $US140,000 to accept early retirement.

Gettelfinger told Reuters in his report that the US parts sector has shed more than 20% of its payroll since 2000 or more than 160,000 jobs, as problems have deepened for the US automakers. "Dig into the reasons behind this state of affairs and there's no getting away from the fact that bad management decisions have played a role," he reportedly said. "But it's not all a matter of bad management."

Saying the auto industry's problems were more serious than ever, Gettelfinger called for reform of US healthcare policy which currently imposed an unfair burden on the traditional [Detroit-based] Big Three automakers and their aging workforce compared with their Asian and European rivals, Reuters said.

Gettelfinger reportedly said the burden of rising US health-care costs could not be fixed in negotiations with a single employer.

The news agency noted that both Ford and GM have agreed with the UAW to shift a higher share of their health-care costs to workers and retirees while Chrysler Group is negotiating a parallel deal that analysts say could save it hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Reuters also noted that the UAW has unionise any of the USfactories run by Asian and European car makers, even as their combined share of the US market has risen to more than 22%, up from less than 15% a decade ago.

A crucial item on the Las Vegas meeting agenda is the selection of three new UAW vice presidents to replace those in charge of the upcoming negotiations with GM, Ford and Chrysler, Reuters added.