UAW '07 Contract Negotiations: No Surrender!
I may be the only American automotive journalist who thinks the United Auto Workers (UAW) won't make any significant concessions in their new contracts with The Big Two Point Five. Window dressing? Absolutely. I fully expect to read breathless accounts of breakthough announcements– and discover familiar pay postponements, paper shuffling and prevarication. Genuine, honest-to-God, we’ll reduce the amount of money we’re draining from your coffers concessions? Never. And then I read Sharon Terlep’s piece in the Detroit News– “UAW: Expect Sacrifice”– and changed my mind. For five minutes.
I’m not saying Terlep’s article was pure propaganda, but if it’d been a bag of cocaine, the dealer would have cut it several times to prevent cardiac arrest. The writer assembled the usual suspects to predict the familiar bacon saving concessions: Big Ron Gettelfinger, UAW Vice Presidents Cal Rapson and Bob King, and GM spokesman Dan Flores.
"Sacrifice," "put aside the adversarial approach," "our fates are linked;" yada, yada, yada. I mean, they would say that wouldn’t they? The UAW and The Big Two Point Five’s management have been in bed for so long they have to turn every thirty minutes to avoid sores.
Meanwhile, testimony from the sharp end gave Terlep’s game changed analysis some major oomph: “’If we don't make a profit, we don't have a plant,’ said James Kaster, president of UAW Local 1714, which represents workers at GM's factory in Lordstown, Ohio. The plant has a program under way to educate workers on why GM's financial success should matter to them.”
Now THAT’S convincing stuff. Well kind of. I mean, can you imagine the “education” involved? “So, explain to me again why my salary and benefits get whacked because the guys upstairs green light crap cars.”
As is the way of such things, Kaster’s quotelette only implies a willingness to make financial concessions. As Terlep’s piece progresses, the front line rhetoric begins to soften and stink, like goat cheese left in a hot sun.
“’If the U.S. auto industry is going to survive, it's going to have to change, and we're going to have to change with it’ said Skip Dziedzic, president of UAW Local 1866 representing a Delphi Corp. plant in Oak Creek, Wis.”
In this case, the reader is left wondering if the "change" in question has any monetary value whatsoever, or if it simply means that more UAW workers will get more payoffs to sit on the sidelines and watch Delphi amp-up its foreign factories.
And then… “’It's very delicate this year,’ said Jim Stoufer, president of UAW Local 249, at Ford's plant outside St. Louis. ‘Common sense tells you this is going to be rough. We are going to have to play ball with Ford and keep them competitive. But there is going to come a line that we won't cross.’
That line is, of course, a picket line. Think it won’t happen? Neither do I. Again, GM’s “health care concessions” are the new template.
You know; announce that you’ve hammered-out a historic agreement to trim $3b from the compensation package, and then shove $3b into a union bank account and call it good. Or say that workers are forgoing a pay raise, and then earmark the money for health care benefits. That sort of thing.
The actual line which the UAW won't cross is easy enough to identify: their retired and active members’ current salary and benefits. The union and its paymasters can wrangle all they like about working rules, new workers’ pay and bennies, retirement buyouts, etc. They can monkey around with who gets the money how and when. But there is no way that a single one of the UAW’s current or retired workforce is going to take a major hit on their wallet.
By the same token, The Detroit News can tout the UAW’s “pragmatic stance” and the “unprecedented pressures” facing The Big Two Point Five. But no one’s cutting nothin’.
It all boils down to a simple, inescapable, unavoidable, unanswerable, inarguable question: why should a union member take a cut when the bosses are sitting pretty? UAW workers know that GM CEO Rick Wagoner and his minions are wearing golden parachutes, banking millions. In fact, Rabid Rick’s retirement plan is bankruptcy-proof. Try explaining THAT to the rank and file.
The Big Two Point Five can’t afford their current agreements and they know it. They can’t get out of them and they know it. Their real plan? Weasel, cut and run. Ask the PR flacks how their employers can bear the burden of union-based legacy costs, and they talk about a “new spirit of cooperation,” the value of automation, and the great gains in production efficiency. Meanwhile, they’re all busy moving vehicle production out of the U.S.– even as non-union transplants move production in.
I once heard detente described as a confrontation between a blind mongoose and a paralyzed cobra. Need I say any more?
[Read the original Detroit New article here.]
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