Which Side Are You On, UAW? Detroit's?

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Earlier this year, UAW President Bob King said that if the union didn’t organize foreign auto plants, “I don’t think there’s a long-term future for the UAW, I really don’t.” Now why would he say such silly things if chances for success on that front are slim to none? Currently an intricate plot unravels. The goal: To lower expectations in the rank & file for big breakthroughs at the Detroit bargaining sessions. After all, the UAW still holds a lot of stock in certain Detroit companies, and they don’t want to shoot themselves in both feet in that regard. But what does that have to do with unionizing the foreigners?

The Freep is peeling a complicated onion of arguments that brings us to tears.

  • Unionizing foreigners is a matter of life and death for the UAW, says King.
  • To do that, the union must go easy in Detroit.
  • “To woo workers at foreign plants, the UAW needs to prove it can win more of what they want.”
  • “And to avoid scaring off management of the foreign companies, which can put up a fierce anti-union front, it needs to reach a deal in Detroit without major conflict, such as a strike.”

Interesting. This Cro-Magnon reporter mistakenly thought that to impress workers down south, the UAW had to win large pay raises up north to show them what they are missing. But I seem to be mistaken.

“The union has to prove it is not a job killer … and that it can get along with management,” said Sean McAlinden, chief economist for the Center for Automotive Research union lobbying arm think tank. “I think a harmonious, noncontentious agreement is what King is looking for organizing purposes.”

According to the Freep, “McAlinden said he thinks the UAW could strengthen its hand at the bargaining table with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler if it were to launch an organizing campaign during contract talks. The union could pressure automakers such as Hyundai or Volkswagen, which have operations in Alabama and Tennessee, to raise wages and benefits.”

In other words, by making the life of the transplants unpleasant, the UAW hopes for brownie points from Detroit.

This sounds more and more like the unions working on behalf of the Detroit 3. As I said, they own chunks of them. Along with the government.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Pch101 Pch101 on Jul 12, 2011
    In an ideal world, healthcare is a right. In reality, it is a privilege. But the union probably negotiated the contract so that the cost increases get absorbed by the employer. I frankly think that it's petty that people point fingers at the union for that. I have my own business. My health insurance premiums have tripled -- yes, increased by 300% -- over the last five years. What am I supposed to do about this, fire myself? In all fairness, heart attacks used to be a lot cheaper, because most people died from them. The main expense was the funeral, and they don’t cost THAT much. That's part of the reason. Healthcare is a lot more effective than it used to be. However, much of the reason is that our privatized system has produced the highest paid doctors in the world, and unlike much of the rest of the world, we don't use governmental power to control costs. Because we're willing to spend more, we do. The irony is that on a website like this, people will complain endlessly about the compensation received by auto workers, even though their pay is a fairly low percentage of revenue. This is quite the reverse of healthcare, where most of the costs of the system come from what is paid to labor. We've conditioned ourselves to have more respect for those who work in offices than we do for guys who get their hands dirty. That doesn't speak well of us.
  • Geeber Geeber on Jul 12, 2011

    There is nothing wrong with the UAW going after everything it could in each session of contract negotiations - including health insurance with minimal or no copayments. But when those benefits begin to imperil the competitiveness of the parent company, the union needs to face reality and accept that the company can no longer afford paying for the benefit at this level. Part of union leadership's job is to explain these cold, hard financial facts of life to membership. I don't care how much UAW members make. If the company can afford it, I don't care if they make $400,000 a year with four-day work weeks. But, it would seem to me that union leadership needs to continually educate members on the fact that they have a job because the CUSTOMER is willing to part with hard-earned cash to buy a vehicle that they have made. Lineworkers don't have a job because of the union; they have it because customers want the product. Reading Solidarity, I used to get the impression that the UAW felt that we had some sort of obligation to buy a Chevy instead of a Honda, just to ensure that no union member ever lost his or her job. The entitlement mentality was alive and well...and, interestingly, it matched what was coming out of the executive suite. Union and management aren't all that different, in the end. Just as I don't avoid UAW-made vehicles, I don't go out of my way to buy one with the union label, either. It just doesn't matter to me one way or the other. What matters is the final product.

    • Pch101 Pch101 on Jul 12, 2011
      when those benefits begin to imperil the competitiveness of the parent company, the union needs to face reality and accept that the company can no longer afford paying for the benefit at this level. The health care costs are an issue, but competitiveness hasn't been harmed by them. Bad products and service inflicted the damage by lowering their transaction prices, reducing their sales volumes and harming their brands. With good products, they could have hurdled those costs with higher revenues (although their margins may have been compromised). But, it would seem to me that union leadership needs to continually educate members on the fact that they have a job because the CUSTOMER is willing to part with hard-earned cash to buy a vehicle that they have made. That's really the problem that both labor and management have in common -- a lack of interest in the customer. The union thought that it was doing its job by negotiating an agreement, while forgetting that the agreement doesn't mean squat if there aren't satisfied consumers to keep the money rolling in the door. Like management, they stubbornly refused to accept collective responsibility for the company's need to please its customers. Then again, that's ultimately a management decision. Detroit management borrowed from the Henry Ford model of production and management, which meant taking a top-heavy approach and using a command-and-control structure. They did not want to share power with their workers or see everyone as being in it together, so they got the unions that they deserved. With less bureaucracy more of a team attitude coming from the top, they may have gotten a better union and earned it.
  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.