We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Alabama

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

This week’s round of congressional testimony has forced our elected officials take sides on the auto industry, a topic that typically doesn’t often factor too heavily into national level grandstanding politicking. Detroit News Scribe Bryce G. Hoffman figures that the divisive issue of aid to automakers is creating a house divided… along the old Mason-Dixon line. The split is based on another legislative battle that hasn’t visited the corridors of power as often in recent years: anti-union “at will” employment laws. These laws are popular in many southern states which have used the lack of labor organization to attract transplant auto factories which have bring hundreds of jobs– and an ambivalence to Detroit’s self-made hell– to their sunny shores. And like much of Detroit’s newspapers’ coverage, Hoffman is taking his lead from UAW boss Ron Gettelfinger who blasted Alabama’s congressional delegation at a recent press conference. “Alabama paid $175,000 per employee to create those jobs there,” he said. “It just seems odd to us that we can help the financial institutions in this country — that we can offer incentives to our competitors to come here and compete against us — but at the same time we’re willing to walk away from an industry that is the backbone of our economy.”

Compuware Chairman Peter Karmanos Jr. chimes in too, with a letter sent to ‘bama Senator Richard Shelby. “I was more than a little taken aback by how out of touch you really are about what Detroit’s Big Three automakers have been doing for some time and continue to do to transform their businesses,” Karmanos wrote. “The intent of this letter, however, is not to take you to task for the inaccuracy of your comments or for the over-simplicity of your views, but rather to point out the hypocrisy of your position as it relates to Alabama’s (the state for which you have served as senator since 1987) recent history of providing subsidies to manufacturing.”

Of course, it’s not as if Detroit turns down state subsidies in order to allow its fine employees to unionize. The D3 have received countless millions from a number of US states and Canadian provinces to attract their factories and jobs. So there’s some hypocrisy for ya. Besides, offering your state’s citizens jobs at $100k per year with a stable company that will be around for years to come is a lot better than $140k per year union jobs with firms that have been opening then closing US plants for decades. But by all means, let’s restart the Civil War over this.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Nov 23, 2008
    In general, I am skeptical about broad-brush comments targeted at any large group of people. Sweeping remarks at best can result in caricatures. With all due respect, the same can be said for some of your own partisan political remarks. Your advocacy for Michigan auto workers is a worthy goal. What I don’t get is why you’ve apparently taken to attacking another group of workers using sweeping generalizations that you would presumably find offensive if directed at auto workers. I don't find sweeping generalizations about UAW members offensive, at least the ones that say they are very well paid for semi-skilled work and have ridiculous work rules that hamper productivity. I'm no defender of featherbedding or other union ills. However, the reason why I've decided that the 1.6 million federal employees are relevant is because most people have no clue just how high their salaries are and how much the costs associated with them harm many states. Those federal employees are one reason why nearly a trillion dollars has been transferred out of the midwest. Federal employees are extraordinarily well paid, with benefits that are simply not available in the private sector. Unlike the autoworkers, federal employees have their hands in our pocket. You can choose not to buy a domestic car because you don't like the work ethic or quality of UAW members. You can't choose not to pay some GS-14 a "retention bonus", or tell the IRS you're going to pass on funding that off ramp to the Mercedes plant in Alabama. Federal employees have the power of the state behind them to compel you to pay their salaries at the threat of losing your liberty. Frankly, I'm a little wary of posting these things under my own name because if I piss off the wrong federal employee I'm likely to get audited or something. And if you don't think that public employees resent being told that they work for the public, try telling a local cop that he works for you. As for sweeping generalizations, like I said before, my aunt is a retired administrative law judge for the Social Security system. She's seen how the federal bureaucracy works from within. She's worked with federal employees and she's adjudicated cases involving them. It's her opinion that they don't do much productive work. I wish it was online so I could find it, but there was a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal from an employee of the Commerce department. He said he made about $80K/year and literally had nothing to do all day. He'd read his newspaper and said that his situation was not unique, that his department had hundreds of folks like him "working" in his building. The higher ups don't care because if they got rid of him, they'd have smaller budgets to control, fewer employees they "supervise" and subsequently lower salaries themselves. You didn't answer my question so I'll rephrase it. Who do you think are more conscientious workers, UAW autoworkers or federal employees?
  • Zander Zander on Dec 08, 2008

    I have been doing warranty claims at an Mercedes-Benz dealer for 18+ years, and I can assure you that most of the quality issues with the vehicles produced in Alabama are design, engineering, and component quality--not the workmanship of putting these vehicles together. The quality issues source to Germany.

  • Theflyersfan There's still the serious lingering doubt or fear about sinking so much money into an electric VW, a company notorious for having epic gremlins in that area. Honestly, I want to see long-term, at least 80,000 miles, examples and how they held up. Maybe then.
  • Lorenzo They were willing to go against their customers' preferences to satisfy government, but now that they see it doesn't pencil out, they change their tune. Now is the time to tell 'em what we really want.
  • Tassos Generally I prefer that exploited labor remain domestic like in the service and trade industries. Given the complex and global integration of supply chains and materials sourcing I accept that most manufacturing must be managed by foreign 'kapos'.
  • Lorenzo 1 million barrels is 42 million gallons. The country uses 368 million gallons a DAY. The reserve was set aside after Hurricane Sandy caused a gasoline shortage for emergency vehicles. The hurricane season starts on June 1 and is predicted to be active. Nice going.
  • Chuck Norton Toolguy- I have. It's hard on the knees...