Where Does The UAW Stand On Fuel Economy?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

The United Auto Workers have proven that they’ll come out in support of greenhouse gas regulation when they think it’s in their interests, but what happens now that the union-built green-car future isn’t turning out to be the jobs-loaded utopia they predicted? With CAFE standards of 56.2 MPG by 2025 being proposed, the union has a choice to make: back the government that saved it or the automakers it’s currently negotiating with for jobs? Unless, of course, there’s some kind of principle here…

During the bailout the union was happy to play up its “commitment to green jobs,” but then the Volt battery plant went scab (in the heart of UAW territory, no less), and the union only snagged Chevy Sonic production by pushing its membership to the brink of revolt (a situation that has been “resolved” by not-so-green heavy duty pickup jobs, which are starting to see sales fall off). The NYT’s Bill Vlasic sums up the UAW’s green car nightmare in his description of the Sonic’s assembly plant

The production line has been squeezed into half the space of a traditional plant. Welding robots are concentrated in efficient clusters, instead of being spaced along the line, while many of the workers earn half the typical union wage. Even the first coat of rust-proofing has been reformulated so that it is one-hundredth as thick as — and thereby cheaper than — the coating on other cars…

“We wanted to prove we could do it,” said Diana D. Tremblay, G.M.’s head of global manufacturing… “The entry-level wage structure was an important enabler, because obviously the smaller the car the less the margin,”

That’s the sound of management welcoming the union to a future it probably wasn’t expecting. And with the UAW finally facing the reality of the “green jobs” future, its enthusiasm for even supporting Obama’s CAFE proposal seems to be wearing off. The Freep reports

The UAW, which is concerned about how automaker profits, jobs and wages could be impacted by higher fuel economy standards, met with Detroit automakers Tuesday to discuss regulations proposed by the Obama administration… The automakers, UAW and the National Automobile Dealers Association have argued that the proposed corporate average fuel economy standard of 56.2 m.p.g. would add thousands of dollars to the cost of vehicles and eliminate jobs assembling larger and heavier vehicles such as full-size pickups and SUVs.

There’s no official comment yet from the UAW on the proposed 56.2 MPG standard, but the UAW’s got to be seeing Orion as the thin end of a wedge that’s being driven in by CAFE. On the other hand, that’s still infinitely better than the extinction the union was facing pre-bailout. Having been literally saved by the Obama administration, the UAW will probably suck this one up and discover some green principles… even if that means its future looks like Orion.

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  • GS650G GS650G on Jul 13, 2011

    Why stop at 56 MPG, let's go to 75,100, or 235MPG as claimed by Chevy for the Volt. Should be easy to legislate what we can buy, it's for the greater good right? How many Congressmen have engineering degrees or understand what it takes to make a vehicle? I doubt the law schools they attended focused much on the subject. There is a compromise in this. Just measure fuel economy going downhill. My car's economy gauge shows 99 MPG on long descents. Therefore it saves gas and fights terrorism abroad. As to the UAW, welcome to the future they didn't see when they were busy getting VEBA, stock, and ownership stakes in these behemoths. If this keeps up the workers will have serious grievances to take to management, the Union itself.

  • Junebug Junebug on Jul 14, 2011

    Poor bastards, they don't know which side to bribe now!

  • Cprescott Yawn.
  • 28-Cars-Later Wrangler people are crazy.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Transition" to layoffs, this guy is the Bob(s) from Office Space.
  • Vap65689119 As a release engineer I also worked in quality, if they are serious they should look at Toyotas business model which has their suppliers as genuine partners, thats how you get a quality product
  • Mike-NB2 I seem to have landed in an alternate universe. $12,000 for a Jeep that's going on a quarter-century old and with an automatic transmission? Wow.