By on December 6, 2010

Unable to provide meaningful representation to its dwindling membership, the United Auto Workers is continuing its post-bailout strategy of poking its nose into everyone else’s business with a protest planned for today at the Hyundai America Technical Center in Ann Arbor, MI. While its own workers face the aftermath of a bailout that saw tens of US plants shut down, the UAW opines on the Korean situation in a release which notes:

Frustrated by their temporary status, auto workers at a Hyundai Motor Co.mpany plant in Ulsan, South Korea, declared a strike on Nov. 15, and one desperate worker set himself on fire in protest of the company’s refusal to offer secure jobs. About 500 workers have since led an occupation of various plants in the Hyundai compound… To anyone interested in workplace fairness, the resolution of the Ulsan Hyundai workers’ strike is critical. It could either speed up progress toward ensuring global living wages, or provide a green light on the race to the bottom the auto industry began years ago – — with Toyota and Hyundai getting a head start.

One must, however, point out that the UAW has made its fair share of contributions to recent declines in auto worker wages. After all, it forced nearly half of GM’s Orion Assembly plant workforce to take a 40 percent wage cut in order to build a politically-popular fuel-efficient subcompact (the next-gen Aveo) in the US. Not only did this represent an unconscionable screwing of its own union “brothers” but it also directly hurts the Korean workers the UAW now so self-righteously defends by by stealing jobs using the very same “race to the bottom” that it decries. Besides, the labor situation in Korea is a bit more complex than the UAW’s Manichean moralizing makes it out to be…

UAW President Bob King unsurprisingly sees the labor conflict in strictly moral terms, telling his membership:

Precarious [temporary] workers should be treated in the same manner and have the full rights of regular Hyundai workers.  The UAW and our sister unions around the globe will be standing with these workers until Hyundai stops the violence and repression of these workers and recognizes them regular Hyundai workers… Hyundai is a very successful, profitable company, and it is a moral outrage that instead of including workers in the success of the company, they are keeping more than 8,000 workers at poverty level wages and in complete uncertainty for themselves and their families. We join the Korean Metal Workers Union in demanding that Hyundai immediately hire these workers as full-time Hyundai employees and ask that all people of conscience join us in this demand

But the Korean protesters aren’t complaining about “poverty level wages,” nor are they anxious to simply join the Korean Metal Worker’s union. In fact, the Korea Times reports that Korean labor law is changing, and that starting next year, workplaces will be able to host multiple unions. As a result,

A growing number of labor unions are breaking away from the radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions ahead of the implementation of the multiple-unions system next July.

As more labor unions declare their intent to focus more on working conditions rather than political or ideological struggles, critics predicted, competition among labor unions is expected to become fiercer, bringing about a paradigm shift in the nation’s labor culture.

Union members trying to break free from an overly-politicized umbrella union that is more interested in pushing political agendas than helping out workers on the ground… does that sound familiar? Dissatisfied with existing unions, over half the members of the UAW-backed Korean Metal Workers Union (part of the KCTU) predict that new unions will emerge at their workplaces, and nearly half predict that their advent will reduce the number of labor conflicts. Clearly, simply arguing that all Hyundai workers should be accepted into the KMWU makes little sense from the perspective of trying to help Korean workers. It does, however, make perfect sense from the self-serving perspective of the existing unions like the UAW and KMWU/KCTU because this is the last chance to bring temporary workers into the fold ahead of next-summer’s free-for-all. If the KMWU doesn’t recruit Hyundai’s “precarious” workers, they could just start their own union next Summer, creating competition within the unions. This gambit is all the more obvious, considering the reports that

Although the company has conducted three-way talks between the non-regular workers’ union and Hyundai’s union and management, those involved have so far failed to find common ground.

In addition, members of the non-regular workers’ union not taking part in the sit-in strike began a six-day tour of facilities of Hyundai and other companies with non-regular workers to shore up support for their cause on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Hyundai’s  losses from the protest have mounted to over $200m, as non-regular workers have blocked production of the new Accent (Verna) and Click (Getz).  Clearly Hyundai has plenty of incentives to come to an agreement with the striking workers, but if their (non-regular) union is counter-protesting, and the main unions are simply trying to clutch onto relevance, there’s not much promise of a sustainable long-term deal.

Meanwhile, the UAW’s sense of moral clarity in this confused conflict may be mysterious, but it’s clear where it’s coming from: famed labor consultant Richard Bensinger. In a Freep profile crediting Bensinger with involvement in the UAW’s Hyundai protest, Bensinger is described by colleagues as

“one of the most gifted organizers in American labor,” said Harley Shaiken, a professor of labor relations at the University of California at Berkeley. Bensinger has even earned the respect of Rick Berman, an adviser companies turn to for advice when they battle unions.”He’s probably got a better sense of morality than a lot of guys I have run into in the labor movement,” said Berman, president of Berman and Co. “He’s not one of these guys who thinks people should be pushed into a labor union whether they want to be in one or not.

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21 Comments on “UAW Protest Targets Hyundai, Ignores Hypocrisy...”


  • avatar

    time to shed a “tier”.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    Make a man a fire and he will be warm for a day…Set a man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life.

    UAW are not men…They are Devo.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I can only imagine some of the comments this piece will generate. I’m sure “AaronH” will use the word “parasites” at least once.

     Let me make one point before the flames get too high.

    Two Tiered Wages……..Nobody,not the UAW leadership, not the CAW, or the rank and file or the poor second tier folks that are living it, NOBODY,nobody wanted two tiered wages. I mentioned this before, and I will mention it again. Management,the government,the taxpayers,not to mention the majority of the comments here at TTAC….demanded, union concessions.

     “Its not enough” “where do they get thier sense of entitlement” “close the job banks” “cancel thier pensions,take away the free Viagra” I must of read a thousand comments, all saying the same thing.

     Well….the UAW/CAW did grant concessions, we closed the job banks,we froze our wages, and our pensions,we gave back vacation time. We changed the work rules to allow more flexibility.
    and we agreed to TWO TIERED WAGES.

    Who knew in the dark days of 2008 and 2009 that the buisness would turn around in 14 months? Did TTAC know? Or were will they still writing “death watch # 234″?

     I was at the ratification meeting. This is how it went down.

    They informed us in no uncertain terms. GM is closing plants….everywhere, U.S and Canada….We need to bring your compensation package down to the tranplants. Play ball,or we close the doors. We played ball

    The UAW/CAW did what they had to do.

     Edward…..I ask you, if you were sitting in Ron Gettlefingers shoes how would you have done it?

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      as far as I remember the 2-tier wages were the alternative to cutting wages for everyone, including UAW members with more seniority. Of course, those voting UAW members with seniority chose the 2-tier system which allowed them to keep their high wages at the expense of the 2nd class UAW members.

      Somehow George Orwell’s “animal Farm” comes to mind….
       
      For management / government it didn’t matter as long as the total wage expense was lowered. I believe management would prefer a one-tier system since the 2-tier system causes unrest and de-motivates the new employees.
       
      Oh, and the UAW granted concessions? how generous of them when the alternative was liquidation of the company. They gave up such basic things like getting paid for doing nothing (job banks), so they basically gave up everything (in return for a large portion of the company without ever invested one single cent while all other lenders lost everything).

      Edit: the only reason why the UAW is interested in improving someone else’s work conditions is to make them less competitive. And of course, the last thing the UAW wants is to be in competition with another union. Monopoly rules…. even among comrades.

    • 0 avatar

      Mikey, my suggestion to Ron Gettelfinger would have been “if the union has to make concessions, the burden needs to be shared. That’s how unions work.” My advice to Bob King would be “stick to your damn knitting.” But then, King has no choice but to deflect attention abroad because he’s sleeping in the bed that Gettelfinger made, and his cuddle buddies clearly aren’t thrilled with the situation (nor should they be).

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @HerrKaLeum…..The UAW had already agreed to VEBA , before GM went bankrupt. VEBA alone was a massive concession. GM couldn’t come up with the funding. Make no mistake,the last thing in the world the UAW wanted,was any sort of ownership in GM.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Edward….”Sharing the pain” is all good and fine. Trying standing in a hockey rink with 5000 autoworkers and conveying that info.

       From a social standpoint, soladairity forever, brothers and sisters, and all that good stuff? Yeah….your right. Good luck trying to sell that to the rank and file.

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      “and we agreed to TWO TIERED WAGES”

      So much for equality, fraternity and all that. In one fell swoop, you willingly destroyed the key principles of organized labor, the things that gave the UAW any small measure of philosophical legitimacy. You must be so proud.

      When you’re talking to one of the low tier workers, do you literally spit in their faces? You had the bollocks to do it symbolically by vote, so I’m just wondering how you handle it in real life?

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      Mikey: when UAW agreed to VEBA, bankruptcy was already on the table proven by the fact that GM COULD NOT make their payments, which is the definition of bankruptcy. Of course, with creative accounting the B-word was postponed for some more time.
       
      If the UAW is so great, why don’t they just open their own car manufacturer under UAW management with UAW engineers to make better cars? Then they can be as socialist or as capitalist as they want and can leave free-market manufacturers alone. Wouldn’t that be perfect to each his own? the problem would be they wouldn’t have an enemy to blame failure on anymore. Management-UAW developed some nice love-hat relationship. It always is convenient to blame failure on the other side. Management couldn’t build competitive cars because of the UAW rules, and the UAW couldn’t build better cars because of mis-management. but where would they be without their enemies? then each side had to take full responsibility… and who would want that?

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    The final UAW indignity will come when Chinese car companies start making inroads to the US market. The UAW will be in the uncomfortable position of criticizing the Chinese on how to properly treat labor since they idolize command economies. Then Bob King will boyishly ask the chief China car politico for an autograph.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Hyundai should cave to the UAW by firing everyone in Ann Arbor immediately and opening a new tech center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Maybe it would be obvious enough for union supporters to see their folly. Maybe not.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @Silvy_ nonsense……To answer your question…I’ve been out for two years and never had to deal with 2nd tier employees. We did however give up our shunt drivers, and sweepers to an outside company,while I was still there. Thirteen to fifteen an hour working along side people making $35.

    I treated them the same way I treat the rest of the folks on this planet. With respect and dignity,the same way I expect to be treated.

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      “We did however give up our shunt drivers, and sweepers to an outside company”

      You didn’t “give up” anything. That’s code for saying that you voted to save your own job and grossly inflated pay by allowing the company to get rid of some of your colleagues. You had any number of choices and you chose to shaft your brothers rather than offering to take a cut in pay, creating a dollar neutral package where everyone gets less, but everyone keeps their job.

      “…the same way I expect to be treated.” I truly hope for your sake that no one ever treats you with the kind of callous indifference you have chosen to show toward your brothers in international labor.

  • avatar
    mikey

     People…….For the record I’m not a big fan of two tiered wages. I pesonally believe its a slippery slope. It doesn’t take a math degree to figure out,when the lower tier out number the higher tier,things might get a little ugly.

     Yeah….like when the lower tier gets to vote on my pension, and I make more than they do?

     I still maintain, that at the time,with the situation as it was,. the UAW had no choice. “Sharing the pain” would have never got through ratification.

      Edward N is right, Gettlefinger handed the whole stinking bag of s—t to Bob King. Personally,  again I agree with Edward. The sooner Mr King forgets about Toyota and Hyundai and Korea, and directs his focus to fixing the UAW the better for all of us.

  • avatar
    Rusted Source

    Great reporting Edward!  The self-serving behaviour of the UAW sticking its nose in another country’s business to try and knock down Hyundai’s reputation a notch is kind of embarrassing.
     
    If it seems like American competitors (management+union) are getting railroaded by Hyundai’s unstoppable momentum, perhaps they should think back a few short years on how they laughed and wrote them off as a joke, instead of seeing the impending threat.
     
    Interesting to read about competing unions, seems foreign – oh wait it is foreign.

  • avatar
    Mike-Hgl

    Two tiered wages are a fact of life in just about all other industries, so welcome to reality, folks. In the foods industry ( where i work) the UFCW has used mutiple - tiered wages and benefits for decades. As new contracts are negotiated, older tiers are combined and new ones are created. It’s not an ideal setup by any stretch of the imagination and tends to pit one tier group against another but what’s the alternative? 
    I don’t think the auto companies will have much trouble finding applicants to work at the so-called “lower” tier wages being offered. It beats 90% of the other “living” wage jobs out there.
    So it is what it is. Suck it up.  

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      It’s not an ideal setup by any stretch of the imagination and tends to pit one tier group against another but what’s the alternative?
       
      The alternative is to fire your union and accept that your pay and benefits will be determined by the market rather than collective bargaining.  That is, you are compensated based on what you can convince somebody your worth is, rather than what date you hired in or what arbitrary tier you occupy.

  • avatar
    Invisible

    SCREW the UAW.
    Hyundai should take notice that these mobsters will be moving in and holding Hyundai hostage here in the USA.
     
    Here is some advice Hyundai, pack up everthing and RUN.  Get out of that state of Michigan as fast as possible!

  • avatar
    Lokki

    I’m with Mikey on this one -  two tiered wages are the best solution to the situation.  I’m a management side guy who has done extensive labor contract negotiating, and while I don’t think that unions often make very good long term deals, I don’t hate them.  Management gets their share of the blame in all this.   They should have taken the strike and held the line. See Catepillar. They held the line back in the 90′s to the short-term pain of both sides but the long-term benefit of everyone.

    However, back to those who say that the union caved by agreeing to two-tier wages. 
      It’s all well and good to say that the old guys with mortgages, car payments, kids in school, and  level of life-style developed over years should take a pay cut, but it’s  very bad in the real world.  I would agree that wages and benefits have been too generous in the past to the detriment of the company as a whole, but I sure don’t want MY wages cut by 20% and I don’t think many of you could survive that kind of cut either. 

    Better to do as the union and management agreed, and offer a substantial retirement lure to move the high wage cost guys out of the system.   The guy with whom you replace him has the option to take the job for the lower wage or not.  He’s not taking a pay cut.  He’s just not getting a job at the wage levels that YOU GUYS have declared outrageous.   I really don’t see what you’re complaining about.

    Further, I’d point out that so far, the new system seems to be working.  GM is turning out some good products, as is Ford, and the UAW guys (in both tiers) are working, and not sitting in some job bank or drawing another 52 weeks of extended unemployment benefit at taxpayer expense..

    I do agree that UAW should be working on getting their US house in order and staying out of Korean labor….. this is very much a situation where one union can’t represent both sides- U.S. manufacturers and Korean….. it puts them in a situation where they’re guaranteed to be wrong at least 50% of the time to one side, and 50% of the time to the other side.


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