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Heather Finfrock doesn’t scare easily. When she was only 26 years old she ran a metallurgy lab, supervising a mostly male, mostly older group of workers. By 33, she completed her UAW-GM apprenticeship program.
She’s now a diemaker at General Motors’ Powertrain plant in Toledo, Ohio, serves as alternate skilled trades representative for UAW Local 14 and is a member of the Region 2B Journeyman Card Committee.
But like many people around the world, global warming is a real concern for an otherwise unshakable Finfrock.
“In emerging countries, like China, their fuel consumption is going to go up exponentially in the next few years,” said Finfrock. “So now you’re looking at more emissions from cars, and they don’t have any laws to regulate that. When you really start thinking about it, it’s scary.”
She’s excited that her local soon will be making the new fuel-saving, six-speed transmission for GM. “Every car company out there is trying to go green,” she said. “I want to work in that area. I think that would be so interesting.”
New energy legislation enacted last December requires all cars and light trucks to achieve an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The UAW supported the bill as a technologically and economically feasible way to improve environmental quality while preserving U.S. jobs. (See related story on page 8.)
And UAW members like Finfrock are helping GM get ready to meet the new mandates.
“GM is developing new technologies to meet those standards, which is inclusive of hybrid transmissions,” said Finfrock. “It has to be done now for us to survive.”
The federal government currently provides tax credits to consumers who buy advanced-technology (hybrid, diesel and fuel cell) vehicles. But because nearly all the components for those vehicles are made overseas, the incentive is essentially subsidizing the flow of auto jobs out of the country.
Finfrock says that’s just not right. “We deserve a fair and level playing field for us to be able to compete. It’s definitely not in our favor right now.”
The UAW agrees. As part of its Marshall Plan for the U.S. auto industry, the union is calling on Washington to provide tax incentives that encourage domestic production of advanced-technology vehicles and their key components. The investments would create tens of thousands of American auto jobs, improve our environment and reduce our reliance on foreign oil.
“I’m definitely for bringing the jobs back home. Anything we can do to keep work here, and to keep high wages in the United States, is good,” said Finfrock.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration has shown a tragic lack of interest in preserving the U.S. auto industry. More than 245,600 auto jobs have been lost since he took office in 2001. It took many months and mounting political pressure in a mid-term election year before the president agreed to meet with automotive executives in late 2006 to discuss their concerns.
Finfrock has an answer for that, too.
“The simplest thing would be to get a Democratic president in office. I don’t see the Republicans working with our automobile industry,” she said.
“I mean you hear the word ‘change’ a lot in the campaign speeches. And to me we definitely need a change, but it has to be sincere change. We need to focus on America.”