Politics Intrude On UAW, Detroit Auto Show

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
politics intrude on uaw detroit auto show

Thanks to the unionization of the US auto industry, its politics (and accordingly, those of the state of Michigan) tend to be of the center-left persuasion. This tendency was doubtless aggravated over the last year, as a congressional bailout of the industry was denied by southern Republican senators. But even in Michigan, the union-industry alliance isn’t strong enough to counter the trend towards ever more divisive politics, as two recent stories show some of the ideological cracks forming in this now highly politicized industry. First,according to the Freep, the National Tax Day Tea Party will re-open last year’s political wounds by staging a rally outside the RenCen during the Detroit Auto Show this year. The idea behind the rally is to “make a peaceful yet clear statement against government takeover of America,” specifically the government ownership of General Motors. Though it’s clearly an empty gesture intended to rally political support more than change anything, it will be a jarring contrast to the usual convivial mood at the NAIAS. And it’s just one of several ways in which the politicization of the industry is becoming steadily less containable.

Proving that ideological differences exist even within the UAW, one worker has reached out to what might well be one of the least popular organizations in Michigan, the National Right To Work Legal Defense Fund, in hopes of bringing his case against the UAW to the US Supreme Court. The NRTWLDF explains:

Jeffrey Reed, a resident of Bridgman, Michigan, assembles vehicles for AM General. Because his workplace is unionized, he works under a monopoly bargaining agreement which forces him either to join the UAW or pay compulsory union fees to it in order to keep his job. However, Reed, a devout Catholic, believes financially supporting the UAW union violates his sincerely-held religious beliefs due to the union hierarchy’s support for special rights for homosexuals and abortion-on-demand.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, union officials may not force any employee to financially support a union if doing so violates the worker’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. The statute requires union officials to attempt to accommodate the worker – most often by redirecting the mandatory union fees to a mutually agreed upon charity – to avoid the conflict between an employee’s faith and a requirement to pay fees to a union he or she believes to be immoral.

However, because Reed is refraining from full dues paying union membership based on his faith, UAW union bosses forced him to pay a $100 premium and continue to pay 22 percent more than the amount workers who object on non-religious grounds must pay. Both full UAW members and secular objectors are allowed to pay an amount less than full dues if they wish to cut off the use of their union dues for political activities.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in 2006 that the UAW’s policy violated federal law, but the union has yet to change its policy. According to the lower courts, Reed would have to be “discharged or disciplined before he can challenge the UAW’s practice of forcing religious objectors to pay more than the forced dues paid by nonmembers who refrain from union membership for purely secular reasons.” Thus, the NRTWLDF and Reed are petitioning the SCOTUS to declare the policy unconstitutional.

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  • Stuki Stuki on Jan 09, 2010

    The problem has never been, nor will ever be, whether the UAW, or any other organization for that matter, can tell prospective members to pay up or leave. Instead, the problem is that those workers that would rather leave, and prospective employers wanting to hire those workers, are somehow barred from entering into mutually agreeable employment agreements. I don't think anyone is against workers joining a union, just against union pandering tyrants paying off their voters and campaign backers by shaking down and bullying around third parties that want no part of the whole charade.

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    • KixStart KixStart on Jan 09, 2010

      Oh, yeah. That'll work. We know employers would never coerce employees and that the playing field, absent those tyrannical unions, was perfectly level.

  • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Jan 09, 2010
    The UAW has been the single most destructive force in the American auto industry since the mid-1950’s. While they're not blame-free, they're no more (if not much less) harmful than: Gas prices Ralph Nader Detroit's own management Toyota Pch101, who we regrettably don't see here very often, was fond of noting--accurately---that GM et al's problem has not, for a long time, been that it couldn't assemble vehicles as well as the competition, nor for as little money as the competition. Right up until they declared bankruptcy, GM's operating cost per vehicle was actually lower than Toyota's, and yet GM was still losing money because they couldn't convince people to buy their products for a fair price. Also, right up until and well past bankruptcy, GM's plants across North America had been independently verified as some of the highest-quality shops on the planet, and yet their reliability has been mediocre. The truth of the matter is that the UAW has nothing to do with Detroit's strategic failures, inept marketing and poor engineering and design choices. About all the UAW has done is allow itself to be played as a patsy for all the problems of the automakers. It's true that the relationship is excessively adversarial (again, this has just about everything to do with how management has taken the relationship) and the compensation and shop rules are problematic (again, management didn't have to agree to the terms---but they did, knowing they'd win the PR battle and that they'd make the money back some other way), but it's not like you can heap the whole of the problems on them. Somehow, the Japanese, Koreans and most of the Europeans have managed labour relations as well or better. Something tells me you get the union you deserve. Not only are the

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    • Geeber Geeber on Jan 11, 2010

      The UAW isn't entirely to blame, but it shouldn't be left off the hook, either. The simple fact is that a large part of the union's leadership justifies its existence by taking an opposition stance to management. This makes instituting changes in the workplace exceeding difficult. And change MUST happen if the domestics are to survive. Plus, many of the rank-and-file members are just as out of touch as any top-level GM executive. They are just as likely to blame Consumer Reports, the Japanese, Toyota, etc., for their problems as any GM apologist. Read Robert Dewar's book, A Savage Factory. The union members don't come off too well in that book, and the writer was sympathetic to them. As for the Japanese and Germans and their unions - note that those manufacturers haven't welcomed the UAW with open arms at their U.S. plants. And Japanese unions are more like company unions, which were banned in the U.S. by the Wagner Act of the 1930s. There isn't much of an adversarial relationship there.

  • Chuck Norton And guys are having wide spread issues with the 10 speed transmission with the HP numbers out of the factory......
  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!
  • Ribbedroof Have one in the shop for minor front collision repairs right now,I've seen more of these in the comments than in the 30 years I've been in collision repair.