As the biggest week in the American auto industry, the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit regularly attracts a sideshow of protesters bent on sending a message to the hordes of executives and analysts who cram Cobo Hall. In 2009, UAW members marched against the possibility that the auto bailout (then still a work-in-progress) would require union concessions. Last year, Tea Party groups rallied to protest the government’s ownership of GM and Chrysler, while UAW members counter-rallied in support of the bailout (apparently those concessions weren’t so bad). This year will be no exception to the trend, as dissident UAW members will be protesting the union’s two-tier wage system, a pre-bailout concession that has created considerable controversy of late. And they’ll be getting support (if only in word, not action) from across their friends from the North, as the Canadian Auto Worker boss has recently called for an end to the two-tier system, saying
That has to be a strategy of the UAW to gradually get out of the two-tiered system. I don’t know if it can happen overnight, but they’ve got to start sending signals to future employees that the low, tiered wages are not something that can sustain families long term
And there’s an interesting point to be made there. After all,
New hires at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors plants in the U.S. are paid $14 an hour, half of the regular hourly rate. In Canada, new hires earn about $24 an hour – 70 per cent of the regular hourly rate – and reach parity over a six-year period.
But the CAW isn’t necessary calling for a single wage for all union workers… after all, that would require sacrifice from existing members. Instead, CAW boss Ken Lewenza argues
GM and Chrysler cleared out a lot of debt, so they’re in good shape. Ford is having a remarkable turnaround based on product and increased market share so you’ve got to take advantage of it. So, Id like to think sacrifice bargaining is behind us.
Maybe someday the auto worker unions will find a single sustainable wage that works for all workers as well as the firms that hire them, but that day seems as far away as ever. In the meantime, angry protests should make for an interesting counterpoint to the glitz and cocktail receptions that otherwise define NAIAS. TTAC will definitely make a point of visiting the protest scheduled for this Sunday in hopes of better understanding the conflicted state of the United Auto Workers. After all, union leaders seem more interested in snagging seats on the boards of the Detroit automakers [sub] than listening to its members.