UAW President Bob King asked business leaders to reexamine their ideas about unions during a speech at the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual policy conference on Mackinac Island.
Acknowledging the conservatives in the crowd, King joked that it might be the closest he'll come to ever appearing at a Republican National Convention.
But his speech quickly turned serious, with an appeal to business leaders and Republicans to work with unions, not against them, for the good of both business and the middle class.
It was the UAW of the 20th century that had an antagonistic attitude towards management, said King, but the UAW of the 21st century shares responsibility with management for the company's profitability.
King cited examples of union workers coming up with ideas that saved General Motors $200,000 at its Lordstown factory. He says union members were key in fixing quality problems prior to Ford's launch of the Taurus at the Chicago plant.
But King says he's worried about the extreme right, which he characterizes as having a vision "of an America with no unions."
That would be devastating to the middle class, and to democracy, he says.
King says the middle class is currently under attack in the U.S., with Republicans trying to continue changes in tax policy that favor the rich at the expense of middle-income and poor Americans.
The same trend is happening in Michigan, too, he noted during a media availability after the speech. King says Governor Snyder cut Democrats and unions out of the debate over re-crafting Michigan's tax policy.
The result, he says, is a nearly two-billion dollar tax cut for state businesses, and, "What are we getting in return? The hope that maybe they'll spend that money and create jobs in Michigan. I don't buy it."
King also said he expects contract talks with Ford, General Motors and Chrysler to begin by the end of July. The UAW may not target one company this year and instead will try to reach agreements with all three companies simultaneously.
King says a greatly improved relationship with management at the car companies will make the contract talks easier.