Speaking at the same Detroit conference on the auto bailout that Steve Rattner and Ron Bloom attended, the Center for Automotive Research’s Sean McAlinden proclaimed the end of Detroit’s era of unsustainable high wages. In 2007, said McAlinden, building a car in North America cost GM about $1,400 more per car than it did Toyota, thanks largely to a $950 health care charge. Since then, GM’s bailout and renegotiated wage and benefit contracts with the union have actually brought GM’s hourly compensation to just under what the CAR says the transplants pay. The AP reports that McAlinden’s estimate of GM’s average hourly worker salary is $69,368 while the transplant average is $70,185. Better still is McAlinden’s prediction that
between 2013 and 2015, Toyota could even be paying $10 more per hour than GM unless the Japanese company reacts and lowers wages.
And all it took was giving the UAW a $17.5 stake in the new GM!
Of course, there’s some question as to the veracity of anything that comes out of the CAR. Largely funded by unions and the Detroit automakers, CAR’s assesments have been plenty controversial in the past. This time though, it’s hard to see how cooking these numbers helps anybody. After all, the UAW hardly comes out of this looking like roses with its membership… unless we see these numbers used in a union counterattack.
And that’s not a scenario that’s entirely out of the question. After all, GM may be beating the transplants on hourly worker wages, but compare white-collar salaried employee compensation, and it’s clear that GM still pays its non-hourly workers quite well by comparison. According to McAlinden,
Salaried workers at the Detroit automakers made $122,963; at foreign competitors, they made $81,506.
That won’t make the union too happy. But then, they won’t really have much to say until their VEBA fund is able to monetize its stakes in GM and Chrysler. And if those stakes don’t yield enough cash to meet VEBA’s obligations, expect things to get nasty all over again. And then there’s the issue of pensions, which the GAO recently warned could compromise the whole auto bailout. It’s not clear if McAlinden includes these looming pension bills in his compensation analysis, but it’s likely he doesn’t considering GM has no public plan for how to deal with the looming crisis.