By on July 13, 2011

Cartoon by Pat Bagley at Cagle Cartoons.

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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15 Comments on “Where Does The UAW Stand On Fuel Economy?...”

  • avatar

    The union doesn’t care if the car is “green” or it is a heavy duty pickup. The only green that matters is money. The union wants to represent the workers, period. It may be more politically expedient to be building Volts, say instead of trucks, but the union is under a lot of pressure to save as many manufacturing jobs as it can. Witness the givebacks and whatnot to try to keep the work under the UAW umbrella. However, the pattern set can lead to later problems. Givebacks that are permanent will most likely lead to more givebacks. It’s like giving up a bit of one’s liberty. Unless there is a revolution, it is usually a one-way ratchet. The UAW has to be concerned that once these patterns are established, they will not be able to offer anything better that the transplants do. At that point the members may wonder why they need the baggage of UAW representation if there is nothing gained by being union. Perhaps the union would have been better off had it supported real work rule changes. Often, the strangulation caused by arcane rules cost more in efficiency than anything else. I strongly suspect that the better flexibility and production allowed by this change would have made the chase for lower wages by the companies less necessary…though I suspect that management would still try to squeeze the lemon…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m more inclined to see where there is no pleasing the UAW. The UAW wants the US auto industry to exist only on their terms. That’s pretty much the way it was until reality bit near the end of 2008.

      One would think that after GM and Chrysler had declared bankrupture and were bailed out by the tax payers, that the UAW would tread more carefully and try to seek an equilibrium between their wants and needs and the reality of making a profit for their employers.

      I think that one attitude adjustment per century would be enough for the UAW. Haven’t they bargained enough of their own members out of a job? Why does the UAW insist on biting the hand that feeds them? Wasn’t the UAW bargaining solely responsible for how their past positions have brought them to exactly what they got in return for their demands, i.e. the Sonic assembly plant, and the depressed sales for the truck assembly plants? Does the UAW not understand that once they’ve lost a former customer that it is unlikely that customer will ever come back? Haven’t they lost enough customers in the mass exodus to better foreign-brand cars?

      Maybe the UAW will see the light in time, this time.

  • avatar

    Well exactly the Onion folks want to have more good paying job so they can justify to have more Onion dues in members/numbers and pay per hours.

    Not so differently than in BC Canada, our ex provincial Premier His Excellency Gordy Campbell tried to ram HST down our throat, the HST tax do charge 5% on many items that was not taxed before.

    IE things for kids under 16 clothes etc, school supplies, Gymn membership and funeral arrangements too or exit tax! Get u in the end haha.
    Because of lying about the tax to get re-elected that caused him the job.
    Trying to sell us down the river he became real buddy with the Federal Govt, so now he is rewarded with acushy job as Embassy staff to London Old Blighty. But funny enuf, His Excellency Gordy Campbell
    received a DUI citation circa 8-9 yrs ago, while he was on holliday
    in Maui Hawaii. A Peace officer pulled him over as the officer saw a car weaved in & out like a sine wave. So he was convicted with DUI,
    I bet he’s the first Premier to receive a DUI while in office. The constituents did forgiven him, and he had been back & forth to USA many times due to diplomatic leniency.
    Now wonder if old blighty would over look his past with the DUI?

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “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”

    It was the fact that my 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity started showing rust in less than 4 weeks, that caused me to stop buying GM products.

    When I read that, I thought of all those rusty Vegas and Chevettes, and I said to myself: “It must be something in the water”.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah I hope that is a typo or not as bad as it sounds; if GM is building the Sonic to be an ultracheap rust mobile it will do a tremendous amount of damage to the company.

      • 0 avatar

        This is NYT reporting. It could be that GM has made a break-through in rustproofing that allows them to use a new product in much smaller quantities for the same effect while cutting weight and cost. It could also be that GM is applying a token amount of rustproofing on a car to save money and whoever made the call is hoping to cash out before it catches up with GM. Or it could be anywhere in the middle, although the fact that the Sonic weighs more than a 2012 Civic sedan makes the weight-watching thing seem unlikely.

      • 0 avatar
        Bill Wade

        As if they could damage their reputation any more than it already is.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      All Chevrolets come with a 6 year / 100,000 mile warranty against rust through and have for many years now. Late model GM cars have very good corrosion resistance, an attribute they are unlikely to turn their back on with the long term warranty costs that would ensue.

  • avatar

    Yeah but what has he done recently for the UAW? More importantly, what could he do if the UAW pisses him off?

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

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

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