By on February 22, 2014


Don’t let anybody tell you the economy’s tough nowadays; when our beloved, game-changing Managing Editor, Derek Kreindler, posted in a Facebook auto-journo group offering cash money to anybody willing to write a pro- or anti-UAW piece for this esteemed publication, only one of the several hundred members even bothered to contact him about it. I don’t know about you, and I don’t know about me, but the bacon-and-buffet junketeer crowd is doing just fine.

That author was New York attorney and fervent social liberal Jamie Lincoln Kitman, who contributed a guest post from a decidedly pro-UAW perspective. We published it exactly as submitted, despite my reservations about some of the Christian-baiting red meat (blue meat?) Mr. Kitman threw to the ravenous crowd in the pursuit of his point. Some of the readers ate it up; some wanted to flay him alive. But the clicks came in at a rate that allowed Derek to buy an Omega “Dark Of The Moon” Speedmaster with his weekly bonus, so I decided to source an opposing editorial.

That anonymously-written piece stirred just as much passion as Mr. Kitman’s contribution, and for a reason; I decided that we would permit just as much wacky button-punching as the pro-UAW opinion had offered. I was chagrined to see that some of the readers referred to it as “racist”. After all, the characterization of Japanese “overlords” in the piece was a deliberate spoof of the deliberately racist and violence-inducing material distributed by the UAW in the Eighties. That material, and the race-baiting tactics employed by the UAW in that decade, arguably led directly to the death of an American citizen at the hands of a Chrysler supervisor and a laid-off Chrysler autoworker in June of 1982. I’m not too stressed about it. This is the Internet, which means that some people read deeply, some people read quickly, and some people read until they see something about which they feel entitled to complain.

So what did we learn from the pieces themselves? Obviously, the answer is Nothing, and if you expected anything else, you’re being silly. Reading one piece by a Manhattan lawyer, and one by a former Honda quasi-employee, and expecting to learn something about the Tennessee situation from either would be roughly equivalent to expecting to learn something about mental illness by listening to W. Axl Rose perform “You’re Crazy”. These are opinion pieces. They are meant to stir discussion and debate.

Which leads to the question: Should we have put “boots on the ground” down there in Chattanooga? Should we have syndicated the content of a local newspaperman, as was suggested? Perhaps we should have, and if this struggle continues perhaps we’ll point Derek’s Aventador south and see what’s happening for ourselves. Arguably, this is the story of the year so far, considerably more important than any of the relatively dismal debuts at Detroit and Chicago. If you want a local opinion and you’re willing to click and read it, let us know in the comments.

What did we learn from the reader response to the posts? That’s a different question. Strictly speaking, the “Anonymous” post was viewed 23% more often than the Kitman post despite being published hours afterwards. It caught up with its “competition” by six PM and never looked back. Given that we paid Mr. Kitman more for his opinion than we paid our hapless, white-polyester-clad assembly-line scrub, that’s disappointing. It suggests that the “name value” of major autojournos is less than zero, a lesson that was learned long ago by the OEMs who are courting the Jen Friels and mommybloggers of the world with Kimpton-and-Ritz-Carlton-level awe-and-awe tactics even as they cut PR budgets on the whole.

It’s not that simple, however. More readers commented on the Kitman article, and ten times as many chose to share it on Facebook with their friends. What does that mean? Does it meant that the pro-UAW piece was more convincing, better-written, more worthy of sharing? Or does it mean that left-leaning readers, who stereotypically value social cohesion and reinforcement of existing opinions more than their counterparts across the aisle, are simply more likely to share this sort of thing? Reading the comments doesn’t clarify matters; the B&B were merciless in their destruction of both the pieces. And when the clicks were counted, neither Mr. Kitman nor Mr. Anonymous managed to ring the bell as hard as a description of two rather unremarkable white Ohioans taking delivery of Ohio’s favorite car.

That’s a shame, because it’s a lot more expensive to buy an Accord than it is to buy a journalist. We can’t do it as often, either.

What’s next for the UAW story? Well, that’s the exciting part: nobody really knows. This is a business where the story is written and handed out in advance, where journalists compete desperately for the favor and attention of the OEMs who treat us all as children to be indulged or punished as the situation merits. This isn’t that. It’s a story that has ramifications and meaning well beyond the VW Passat or the Chattanooga plant or even the UAW itself. It’s subject to change, it’s going to get messy, there will be blood. This story takes place in a world where every dollar, every penny, matters. To Volkswagen, to the workers, to the union, to the customer, to the dealer, to everyone. I think we’ll keep an eye on it. Watch this space.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

117 Comments on “What I Learned When I Published Two Opinion Pieces Regarding The UAW...”

  • avatar

    Should we have put “boots on the ground” down there in Chattanooga?

    Yes. Let’s be honest, if you’re true about covering this thing, go to source itself. Try to get some factory workers, cover it like nobody else will. There’s a great opportunity to really shine here, even break some media barriers.

  • avatar

    I can’t say that I agree about left-leaning readers needing a “reinforcement of opinion” any more than their right-leaning counterparts.

    Edit: Read too fast. I have a little more faith in the internet now. I would say that the Kitman piece got more shares because it was better written, and also because it had a name behind it. I think a lot of people dismissed the anti-UAW piece because of it’s anonymity.

    • 0 avatar

      I would argue that the Kitman piece got more shares because of demographics: younger and more liberal readers are more likely to do Facebook (and social media),and participate more actively, than older and more conservative readers, .

      Almost nobody I know in my 40+ year old circle does much of anything with social media, much less click on “like” or share articles; our wives do that. Social media is how you occasionally keep up with old friends and your spread out family.

      One nice thing about getting a little older is that you start caring a lot less about whether other people agree with you or not, and liking and linking is not how you generally want to spend your time.

    • 0 avatar

      Mr. Emerson. When are you planning to write some articles, again? I have always liked your style. If I have missed some of them in the last few weeks, it is because I am on a drilling ship off the coast of Malta. Now, quit screwing around and get at your keyboard.

    • 0 avatar

      I couldn’t get through the Kitman piece far enough to see what point he was trying to make. Reminded me of trying to drink a Starbucks article. All bitter and burnt from the first taste.

  • avatar

    Through all of this I find it shocking that the media ignores VW’s first us plant…a UAW plant..the first transplant in the us…and what went down there. Ttac the Internet’s needs a history lesson.

    • 0 avatar

      Volkswagen’s first plant in the U.S. was in Pennsylvania and made VW Rabbits. It was a mess and kept VW out of the transplant-plant-in-America for decades. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ferdinand Piech was having flashbacks.

      • 0 avatar

        It was a mess, but in all fairness not entirely of the UAW’s making. The union didn’t decide to “Americanize” the Rabbit. That honor falls on James McLernon, the former Chevrolet engineer brought in to run the operation.

        • 0 avatar
          Jan Bayus

          Th UAW was an important part of the success and downfall of the auto industry. There is little doubt the unionized workers wages allowed the economy to thrive, and there is little doubt that the Union Management was corrupt. But the same can be said of the Automakers themselves. The union members did not design the cars they were paid to build and although a number of those employees ripped off their employer, the designers and upper management also profited. Today the Union is working with the Manufacturers and the quality and desirability of the product is evident. I think the public unions are stuck, when Firefighters and Police abuse so evident. And don;t forget, the Japanese plants do keep a very close watch of the wages and benefits offered in the UAW shops. So the UAW is still relevant in those shops that are not unionized..

        • 0 avatar
          bill mcgee

          In 1980 I bought a new , made in Pennsylvania Rabbit. Yes , I would have preferred a nicer interior as VW was producing in Germany to the plasticky , color -coordinated interior of the American model . For the time though assembly quality of the Pennsylvania factory was better than its domestic competition . At the time it was widely regarded to be the best assembled domestic car , and given the times and compared to the domestic competition was a pretty good car.

      • 0 avatar

        and then, as now, they offer a dumbed-down decontented car that really isnt better than a lot of the competition

  • avatar

    A number of years ago, a writer for Britain’s CAR magazine spent about a week actually working in an auto plant on the assembly line. I think an article here from that perspective would be interesting.

  • avatar

    I’m pretty neutral about the UAW today. They gave up a lot of concessions in the late 2000s to help the Big 3 be more competitive in the U.S. with foreign automakers. I’ve had a number of cars built by UAW autoworkers and a number of them not built by the UAW here in the United States. I do not find glaring differences in quality with any of the cars. A lot of people knock labor unions today, but history shows that the higher wages they earned for their workers helped elevate what competitors would also have to pay their own employees. Example: when Toyota pays 20 something dollars per hour to their workers in Indiana, it is to be competitive with UAW wages and the extra money is good for the local community where the cars are built.

    • 0 avatar

      @IndianaDriver – Yes, and the increased costs of labor either 1)just reduce the company’s ‘obscene’ profits, 2)are reimbursed by government subsidies, tax abatements, and other “free” funds, 3)are plucked from the money tree every big corporation and government entity has in its back yard, 4)are passed on the the automobile buying public.

      100 years ago unions performed a public function by protecting the new Industrial Age worker from exploitation. By the 1950’s their sole purpose was to extort higher wages every three years. In an age when the internet exposes everything, including exploitation by American clothing manufacturers in Asian countries, does anyone really believe unions are needed to protect American workers?

      While definitely not the sole reason, union contracts certainly were a large contributor to the demise of Detroit. The UAW demanded & received wages out of sync with similarly skilled workers in other industries, retirement packages greater than other comparable industries, and most importantly termination procedures that practically guaranteed bad workers could not be fired (can you say, SEIU). How much this last point influenced Detroit quality can be debated, but not ignored.

      Enmity towards the UAW can also be traced to the political plum delivered by our benevolent Federal government when said government trampled on existing bankruptcy law to award the union ownership in GM while legitimate creditors and bondholders received nothing.
      [Full disclosure: My 90-year-old Mother was one of countless individuals & retirement funds that took a hit when that occurred.]

  • avatar

    I think the Kitman piece got more sharing than the Anonymous piece simply because it was better witten. Deluded or not, the Kitman opinion piece at least got in some opinions that merit a debate. The other pice sounds just like an angry, reactive, worthless drivel. I think that even people who agree with the gist of it, would think that it was not really a piece that was written well enough that they’d like to share.

    • 0 avatar

      A few years back, we went toe-to-toe more than once.

      Either I’ve changed, you’ve changed, or we both changed.

      I can’t remember the last time I’ve disagreed with you.


    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed on this.

      Jack – Nice followup story with helpful background. The fact that you didn’t have to provide this – but did – speaks volumes about your character and that of TTAC.

  • avatar

    Both pieces suck , let’s be honest , I read them hoping to learn something but really learned very little about the battle. The name factor meant nothing to me as I never heard of the pro UAW author but maybe that says more about me the your choice. Someone who was close to the ground would be nice , not sure if that is possible.

  • avatar

    “But the clicks came in at a rate that allowed Derek to buy an Omega ‘Dark Of The Moon’ Speedmaster with his weekly bonus, so I decided to source an opposing editorial.”

    $10,000 weekly bonus for the Kitman hits? I thought all this blogging stuff was a hobby. With that kind of income Derek might be able to retire at 50 with a six figure lifetime annuity like a public sector union worker. See how I tied that into the union issue?

    I would like to submit an article where I ask readers what car I should buy, say something about unions, say something about dealer franchise laws and say one brand rules and another brand drools. I ask for no money upfront, just half the hit and comment money. Should I contact you or Derek?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      This blogging stuff IS a hobby.

      The only way to turn writing about cars into a decent watch is to use your resume to get a job writing for Hodinkee :)

      • 0 avatar

        oofa! $12K for, what is essentially a DLC Speedy?!! And it doesn’t even have a bracelet?! Man, I paid less than that for my 9300 POC AND Breitling SABS, both new and still had enough change left over for a nice Wolf dual winder. Watches are getting more and more insanely expensive…

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    This is history on the making. Perhaps not as significant as the “battle of the overpass”, but history nevertheless.

  • avatar

    I’ll cheerfully admit the “name value” of Jamie Kitman, autojourno, is less than zero to me, and the main (of several) reasons I stopped taking Car and Automobile.

  • avatar

    I am going to exercise my right to no longer read any UAW or union related stores on TTAC in the future.

    I do think it is an important story, but I’m going to get my news on the situation from other sources from now on.

  • avatar

    I’m torn.

    On one hand I usually prefer my political sparring only on political websites. I read sites from both (or more) partisan positions. That way I know the loyalties (and funding sources) of the writer and how much to discount their position. Reading political pieces here can be tiresome and confusing (as shown by the former EIC). If ttac can’t be objective and nonpartisan regarding politically tinged matters, how can I trust their loyalties when it comes to car reviews and other related topics.

    On the other hand, this story is pretty big for the industry and it’s political dimensions are a big part of that story. In that sense, ignoring the politics of the situation is a disservice to what’s happening.

    Overall, I like the way ttac is handling the story – you provide some rabid partisan pieces with the understanding that those are some of the viewpoints driving things. Those sentiments don’t seem to cloud or sway the overall message (story of the situation, not an agenda).

    I’m not sure why one piece was shared or read more than the other… I have my own biases and I know which piece I prefer but reading comments here, I’ve been surprised by the relative open-mindedness of the commenatriat. Well, compared to the devoted partisan websites, that is.

  • avatar

    Right now there is just too much divide between groups to have any reasonable conversation regarding politics or anything that gets dragged into political discussions, especially on the internet. If you are counting clicks I read both articles and dismissed them for what they were, opinion pieces. I only glanced at the comments.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Its just not that interesting to me, Jack. The workers have a perfect right to unionize if they want to, and that’s been established since the 1930’s. Its also been clear for some time now, the last twenty years at least, that labor issues really have very little to do with either costs or quality of cars. I guess Libertarians are scandalized that the people who assemble our cars make $19 an hour. Rational people are not.

    VWs quality problems are well covered in your blog, but no one seriousluy would argue that that’s because of slothful workers.

    So basically, who cares?

    • 0 avatar

      >>The workers have a perfect right to unionize if they want to, and that’s been established since the 1930′s.<<

      Yes, but those laws are antiquated. The Wagner Act allows a union monopoly while forbidding automakers to act in concert. They pick one company and threaten to strike it to death until they comply. That then sets the industry "agreement". When Studebaker asked the UAW for a break, the UAW said no, the BIG3 would just absorb their market share.

      Companies were forced to pay more – beyond increases in productivity, De-contenting was the result as no company could survive a strike so long as the monopoly UAW could. Buyers fled to imports and the companies failed (exc. Ford).

      Transplants have relief from that historic monopoly but the UAW wants to re-establish its pricing power. Heck, even when they lose they try to defame the companies and encourage boycotts of dealers.

      If the UAW were to re-establish its monopoly power, expect auto manufacturing, even transplant, to follow other industries out of the country.

  • avatar

    On a somewhat different subject, what type of Volkswagen is the GVWR sticker taken from? Obviously not something current; does any company besides Tata currently produce any car or truck with 13-inch wheels?

  • avatar

    I enjoyed reading the reactions both pieces generated more than the pieces themselves. That is the point, but keep this style of coverage up. Its really enlightening to see all the various points of view.
    The background of VW’s first attempt of operating a plant here would be a great piece, the perspective from a line worker there would really be interesting.
    I will add that there was a time where the UAW was needed, but nothing lasts forever. They grew to large and could not sustain themselves. Its a different world today than 50 years ago. The UAW was responsible for some of these changes that lead to it’s growing obsolescence. That is a good thing and that’s the way it works, these things have a lifespan that have to be closely nurtured to ensure their longevity. They lost their way and the competition and the “free market” took advantage of that. If I see anything that will help the US worker as a whole would be the repeal of NAFTA. That flawed trade agreement has eliminated the value-add that manufacturing complex high dollar goods in the US created in the first place. If the people building the products are not buying them, there is a problem, there is a lack of instinctive pride in craftsmanship if the builders cannot buy what they are building.
    At the end of the day I enjoy and try to support “MADE IN USA” whenever I can. I want to see Americans being able to make a living. If they are building a Honda, VW, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, or Chevy its all good. I know that those cars coming off the line are supporting a local economy that is good for everyone. When I see “Hecho en Mexico” or “Made in Canada”, those dollars are not coming to the local US economy and putting people to work. That is my issue with this whole VW thing. We want to encourage other MFRs to set up shop here. If the UAW is looking out for its self and the politicians they support, it lost the point. The members should come first, the workers should be able to support their families, not the union.

    • 0 avatar

      How much of that support America is lost when HMC ships the car out of the country?

      Minus exports Ohio’s favorite car is the Cruze as Chevy has 10 plants making them around the world and none are exported.

  • avatar

    Don’t over analyze the split in numbers between the two pieces. They were a single moment from a reader’s perspective and most of the relevant arguments have since carried over into the Haley/SC piece. I also think the Kitman piece was better written so that’s where that extra money went. It’s not a waste. It’s why everyone here loves your work, even the old-man Camry brigade.

    I actually think the comments sections stayed pretty civil all things considered. This topic has been at the center of a lot of TTAC nasty grams in the past, but judging from my email notifications we really haven’t started seeing personal disparagements show up on those threads until last night and this morning (I call that last word syndrome, we’re all prone to it.)

    You guys did a masterful job of peppering us with opinion pieces and status updates over the last few days. To the point where I’ve discovered other members of the B&B in my personal life because the articles are being discussed in public. Keep it up and spend some money I say.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    yeah go on ,Unionise . So what if the union bosses get a 6 figure bonus with every pay rise he wins? So what if those pay rises result in your plant closing down and moving to thailand ? Toyota Australia’s Employees have every reason to spit on the name of their union leader who right up to the announcement Toyota was closing down ,was arguing for a pay rise ..and $20 an hour? The lowest paid in Australia get more than that. Try $50 per hour.
    As Britain found out,the unions serve no one but the hierarchy with the workers doing the hard yards and paying for the privilege.

  • avatar

    I love being part of a social experiment it makes me feel so statistical

  • avatar

    I believe that one astute poster observed that the two columns accomplished little more than inciting “ideological dumpster fires”.

  • avatar

    I read both pieces, and almost every comment. The anti UAW piece was poorly written, and not well researched. Though I found it entertaining , and the comments more so.

    The Pro Union piece, was both better written,and presented. Of course I’m going to think that way. 36 years UAW and CAW member,and presently living on a GM pension, tends to make one, somewhat bias. Similar to the anti union piece, the comments were endlessly entertaining.

    @ Jack Derek…Boots on the ground? Reporters, and camera crews at the gate? Trust me on this, I’ve seen it numerous times. I don’t care if its pro, or con. Any info, and or opinions, you get will never be accurate. People will only say, what they think, their co workers want to hear.

    Back in the 90s one of our local media outlets used to send out the best looking female reporters. Short Skirt, or tight jeans,nice hair. She always kept a couple of hired Gorillas by her side.

    Now that reporter got lots of attention.

    • 0 avatar

      The guy with actual transplant factory experience is not well researched, but the guy that has never stepped foot in an auto factory (if he had I’m sure he would have mentioned it) and just rehashed the Wikipedia history of organized labor in the United States, along with making some cracks about dumb southerners (because nothing endears southern autowokers to a Michigan centric union like dumb southerner jokes), is?

      “Back in the 90s one of our local media outlets used to send out the best looking female reporters. Short Skirt, or tight jeans,nice hair. She always kept a couple of hired Gorillas by her side.

      Now that reporter got lots of attention.”

      I’m not sure who that would be from the TTAC staff. I’ve never seen her picture, but maybe Murilee Martin?

      • 0 avatar

        Um, Murilee Martin is a guy. Judging by the pictures accompanying his articles on racing I don’t think he will need a hired gorilla by his side if he decides to do some interviews.

    • 0 avatar

      Mikey: I greatly respect your opinions and your stories from the assembly line – tell me, what would you be thinking if you were on the floor in Chattanooga? Even as a CAW member and supporter, would you want representation by the UAW and IG Metall? Should the UAW have an adversarial position with VWOA, or do you think the situation would be aided by a more conciliatory approach?

      If VW is paying these workers a reasonable wage with benefits, what would be the advantage for agreeing to the UAW representation?

      I’m fascinated by this story, to be honest. I truly believe it to be a watershed moment in North American labour relations, or at least the beginning of a shift in perceptions in labour relations.

      • 0 avatar

        @ Monty….To perfectly honest…Your second paragraph says it all. To answer your question of “a more conciliatory approach”..?

        Well that would be the exact position that the UAW finds itself in today. Gone are they days when the UAW could point thier weapon, at the one of the former “Big Three” In 2014 its the management side of the table where the power resides.

        At the stroke of a pen, they can shut the doors and relocate. Every country, state, province, municipality, keeps their checkbook handy.

        VW, GM, Ford, Chyrsler, Honda. Union, or not, are all very aware of the situation.

        Personally, I was shocked at the vote results. I figured the “no union” side would have won by 25 percent, or more.

        • 0 avatar

          Actually I think this is why conservatives are so upset for years UAW efforts at transplants went nowhere, this vote was to close for comfort and seems to be indication that there may be somethings off at some of these plants that are making workers think that joining a union may be better. I like Mikey fully expected defeat and was surprised how close it came.

      • 0 avatar

        I work at the factory. I can honestly say people voted their minds and didn’t pay any attention to the outside noise.The Germans don’t understand why the UAW didn’t win but life goes on.

  • avatar

    One thing that I would find useful in future coverage is more background information.

    It seems to me that what is being proposed at Chattanooga (works council plus union representation) is to some extent new, and potentially a game changer, as it tries to adapt a model that has worked well in Europe to American conditions and laws. This leads to a number of questions, the answers to which inevitably would be speculative, but still worth investigating.

    – What would be the division of roles between the union and the works council? How independent would they be from each other? What would be the composition of the works council?
    – How does this differ from previous models both in Europe and the U.S. ? What would each entity be giving up/gaining compared to the U.S. and European models?
    – Does the potentially reduced role of the union reduce the risk of the most objectionable aspects of a union shop?
    – How does a union shop function in a right to work state? Who would pay dues? Who would be covered by which contracts?

    As I have read the comments to previous posts, it seems that many of them are based on narratives from the past (“the UAW killed Detroit” “gilded age abuses”). To the extent that what is being proposed has never been tried before, it might offer us the opportunity to escape these narratives. Whether this hope is justified is worth looking into, don’t you think?

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Waingrow

      Ah, what a sensible comment. This poster is modest enough to show that he doesn’t have all the facts but would greatly appreciate learning more. That’s where TTAC should come in. We needn’t vote on who’s most ignorant on a subject. We need reporters on the ground doing the hard work. This is where I have a problem with much of internet content. It’s often just a bunch of ill-informed opinion, and interesting as sociology or psychology perhaps, but not helpful in getting at something that approximates the truth. There aren’t too many free buffets for muckraking journalists, you may have noticed. So which will it be, TTAC folk? Are you willing to get off your ass, when it’s clearly more pleasant to stay put?

      • 0 avatar

        And for that, you need the budget of Reuters or Bloomberg, which we do not have.

        • 0 avatar

          While you do have a point, some of this could be accomplished with a few phone calls to the right places.

          For example, I had suggested contacting the beat reporter at the local Chattanooga newspaper to try to gain some insights, perhaps through an interview with you. I don’t know whether he’d talk to you, but his phone number is published, and he and his editors probably wouldn’t mind getting some attention for their hometown paper.

          • 0 avatar

            Absolutely. But I don’t want readers to expect that one of us will be stationed in Chattanooga covering the events like a legacy media outlet would do. We do not have the manpower or financial resources – and frankly, I wish it weren’t that way. But gathering news is an expensive business, and just making sure TTAC functions properly on a daily basis is a full time job for me, in addition to writing, editing, scheduling content and all the other assorted tasks that need to be done.

          • 0 avatar

            I understand the resource constraints, and am sympathetic to the problem.

            At the same time, allow this Gen Xer to teach the millenials about the power of the telephone. Emailing and texting just doesn’t cut it for a lot of things, while the phone can be a great way to get a lot of work done with reduced effort.

            Fact-based news analysis is a time suck, so there is only so much of it that you can do — I completely understand that. But a few thoughts who might be good places to call:

            -The aforementioned local reporter, who has been covering this beat for quite some time
            -The local UAW office in Chattanooga
            -Some of the more vocal workers at the plant, pro and con (the New York Times published pieces from one of each)
            -Whoever is involved with the ground campaign locally for the “right to work” antis
            -Some political science academic or historian with a knowledge of labor movements and why they are trending as they are

            I’m sure that you can think of more. You could spread these out over several posts, in order to get maximum bang-for-the-buck — you wouldn’t have to just cram them together into one article.

        • 0 avatar

          Trying to remain modest, let me first say I know nothing about how your job works, or what resources you have or weather you do what you do basically as a volunteer, (in which case, thank you), or if there are material rewards, however meagre.

          But what I wish SOMEONE would do, whether you or the folks at Reuters or Bloomberg, is spend some time on the phone talking to a labour historian, or someone with a background in international manufacturing about these questions.

          That this is not happening (and the death of journalism in general) is more the responsibility of the “news industry” than sites like TTAC I suspect.

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff Waingrow

          Derek, while I have enormous respect for your talent and wisdom, on this one I think you’re wrong. It doesn’t take that much money to get someone to Tennessee for a week of hard work and little play. Press credentials would help, but may not be essential. Perhaps you could have cut back a bit on the overheated Detroit reporting and used the money instead on one of the truly big automotive stories of the year. In fact, the broader ramifications of this are yet to be told. TTAC needed to be out front. It was an opportunity missed.

          • 0 avatar

            PCH, Jeff and 993,

            Thank you all for the kind words and advice. I am going to keep these points in mind for future reference. I hope you don’t think that I am trying to make excuses here. Just relating what it is like to run a popular blog that is held to a high standard, but must work with a modest budget.

            Jeff, with regards to “press credentials”, it’s not essential. Look at Cameron and Phillip. Both are not traditional journalists, but Cameron has been assimilating the ins and outs of the auto industry as she does her work (and, I think I should credit Bertel here. I am applying his mentorship techniques that turned me from “game changer” spouting newsbot to the person I am today).

            Phillip has a technical background and knowledge of General Motors products and servicing processes that added value to the Cobalt story.

            It is difficult to find people who have both talent and the ability to show up and do the work on time with no excuses. We can do what PCH101 suggested, it’s true. Finding someone that is both skilled and reliable enough for us to send to TN (which would eat up a chunk of our modest budget) is a big gamble given what we have to worth with. If you know of any candidates, we are always open to working with new people – journalists or not.

          • 0 avatar

            Mr. Kriendler is right. They don’t have the budget for the travel nor do they have the staffing to cope with the enormous time suck. To suggest such a budget busting exercise is a total non-starter.

            Phoning is a good alternative, if you know how to work the phone.

          • 0 avatar


            I am of course not a journalist, but I honestly don’t think much will be gained by having someone on the ground in Tennessee. Facts don’t lose their validity over distance. Getting an analysis of the legal implications of the documents the workers are being asked to sign on to depends on the knowledge and insight of the analyst (and access to the documents), not whether the analyst is located in Chattanooga or Raleigh.

            Boots on the ground may give you more vivid “opinions on both sides” coverage, and better access to the talking points craftsmen of the union and “worker freedom” forces, but that is the sort of coverage that I find to be unhelpful.

  • avatar

    “Which leads to the question: Should we have put “boots on the ground” down there in Chattanooga? Should we have syndicated the content of a local newspaperman, as was suggested? Perhaps we should have, and if this struggle continues perhaps we’ll point Derek’s Aventador south and see what’s happening for ourselves. Arguably, this is the story of the year so far, considerably more important than any of the relatively dismal debuts at Detroit and Chicago. If you want a local opinion and you’re willing to click and read it, let us know in the comments.”

    “Boots on the ground” would add to the coverage, so yes, please. Or at least syndicate some local reporting, as locals will be able to give us the nuances that we’re missing so far.

    This is a really important subject; I think a lot of people are not giving this battle the consideration it deserves. Is Chattanooga the first domino in unionising the southern transplants, or does it signal the death knell of the traditional union and american style labour battles? Is the the nadir, or the zenith for the UAW? Does the German style works council start making inroads?

    I’d also like to hear the perspective of a floor worker in Chattanooga, or a series of interviews or profiles. And some insider stories from Volkswagen’s doomed Westmoreland assembly plant would be just as awesome.

  • avatar

    The degree of class envy evident in the comments is disturbing. I’m not optimistic about the future of this country. Too many seem to believe that corporations exist to be fleeced whenever possible, and those who work hard and earn a little more money should be forced, at the point of a gun, to provide material goods to others who, for whatever reason, can’t earn enough to provide themselves with those goods. Theft doesn’t cease becoming theft just because you have a majority vote in Congress.

    • 0 avatar

      re: E46M3_333 / February 22nd, 2014 at 11:51 am

      “…many seem to believe that corporations exist to be fleeced whenever possible…”

      others believe that many corporations exist to fleece society whenever possible [wall street banksters, domestic military-industrial complex, private healthcare providers, et al]. internalizing profits. externalizing costs. you know, basic business-charter bovine feces.

  • avatar

    Ideology? Self-owning rational adults vs. infantile brats and parasites. What does the matter have to do with political ideology?

    • 0 avatar

      Too bad LBJ’s all a-mouldering. He could have answered that faster and funnier than anyone else.

      Absent him, take a stroll through a major mall and observe the fauna. The adults all get to vote. Amazingly, many of their forebears were self-owning rational adults.

  • avatar

    I read both articles and learned something from both of them. Even found myself agreeing with some points that go against my previous view. But I come here to read about cars, I go to other sites to read about politics. Sometimes they overlap but my preference is to read about cars. Continuing coverage on this would be more political as most people have rather strong beliefs about this topic and the rest just don’t care. So boots on the ground? I would vote no.

  • avatar

    I think that the problem here is that some of us were hoping for some analysis of this particular situation — after all, this is the snarky Everyman’s edition of Automotive News — but only got generic op-ed cliches, instead.

    Both pieces could have been written without there having been any vote at the VW plant at all. Neither of them, particularly the anti rant, had much to do with the vote itself. (At least the pro piece touched on the possibility that threats by state politicians could have swung the result, but most of the rest of it was just generalized.)

  • avatar

    My deceased Dad was a UAW member, factory worker, he always said “the unions were a good idea but then they went to far.” So I think it is too simplistic to say the UAW is “good” or “bad”. I think they let power corrupt them in the way that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”


    • 0 avatar

      @JK43123…I think excatly along the same line as your Dad did. Your comment is by far the most truthfull, and powerfull, of all the 500 plus comments we have had on this subject.

      John…May your father rest in peace.


  • avatar

    Didn’t read much of either opinion piece – too much snarkiness for me. That said, I’m more sympathetic to the anti-UAW side.

    Better value and more interesting writing could have come from pieces (from the POV of a labor lawyers or economists) about why US law requires a union for a collaborative works council. Many US employees would like some sort of job protection without the radicalism that (most) US unions bring to the table.

  • avatar

    Dear Jack,

    First off, I think it’s commendable that you wrote this piece and explored this dichotomy outwardly. When I read the anonymous piece, I figured it was a satirical counterpoint to Kitman – especially considering some of the terminology used within the piece to illustrate racism were verbatim with terms that stirred up trouble back in the BS days – but I’m not surprised that people unfortunately didn’t read it as satire. I think it would have been helpful and ultimately stirred up less concern had it been noted as satire either in a subtle tag at the bottom or more outwardly at the top. And certainly it’s hard to separate language from intention without a disclaimer of that sort.

    Kudos for running a great ship to you all. I’ve been really happy with the tenor of the site and have been glad to be back reading and occasionally commenting.

  • avatar

    “What’s next for the UAW story? Well, that’s the exciting part: nobody really knows.”

    Aw, hell, everybody SHOULD know! The UAW will try and try again to unionize the South.

    It is existential for the UAW. If they fail, the UAW will cease to exist because they cannot survive on the amount of money they leech from their small membership today.

    In order to pay bills and advance their political causes the UAW already had to put some choice properties on the chopping block.

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    Obviously somebody needs to go down there and interview a good cross section of the workers at VW Chatanooga; I get a feeling there’s more to this story than what is being broadcast by the media.

  • avatar

    @ Jack – Why not solicit a balanced piece?

  • avatar

    Some salient points:

    1. The UAW has shot itself, and its members, in the foot on more than one occasion. The two tier pay system, which screws new employees while greasing those with the most seniority is an abomination. If I understand it correctly, Chattanooga employees potentially stood to take a cut in pay from their non union rate to the UAW rate. If someone can confirm this one way or the other, I would appreciate it. The old “jobs bank” was another abomination. Gladly, it is gone. Restrictive work rules were another.

    2. VW was happy to have a union at the plant, but I’m not sure they wanted a UAW style union. The German union recently voted for all of their workers to take a cut in pay by being scheduled for fewer hours, so more of their brethren could stay employed. That’s not the UAW’s style.

    3. Any union pushing for “card check” can kiss my a**.

    4. What do U.S. unions do when they extort a new deal? They go public and brag about what industry leading contract they just negotiated. This is bragging to the world that they successfully place their employer into a less competitive position vis a vis their competitors.

    Having said this: On balance, unions have been good for the country

    1. White collar workers owe their own pay scales to the unions, which they received without having to go out on strike and carry signs around in nasty weather.

    2. Their is a bias in this country among the college educated white collar workers that thinks those who didn’t go to college deserve to make less money, and their mission is to make sure it stays that way.

    3. Unions have increased worker safety and have done a lot of good despite their bullying tactics and associations with unsavory groups and characters. Of course, the same thing could be said about the corporations.

    4. Bob Corker and other TN politicians were stupid and wrong to do and say what they did. First, they handed the UAW an out. Secondly, they arguably broke the law, especially if anyone can find any evidence that there might have been collusion between VW execs and these guys.

    Bottom Line: Had the UAW been voted in the Chattanooga plant IS likely the LAST new auto plant TN might see in the foreseeable future. Yes, Corker was right, but he was wrong to say it publicly. It is quite likely we might see another vote mandated by a court.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      That’s probably the best piece you’ve written.

    • 0 avatar

      Well said, Ruggles.

      I think your Union Pro #2 is an interesting point in particular. I’ll admit, I tend to lean that way myself. Especially given that modern design should mean that a factory worker be little more than a meat-based robot (as the quality should be designed in), why should they make as much as someone who put in the time and effort to go to college and complete a degree? Or to put an alternate spin on it, shouldn’t someone who put in the time, effort, and MONEY these days to get a college education make more than someone doing unskilled labor that does not even require a high school diploma? I’d say that in many cases white collar workers need a union far more than factory workers do. And the poor schlubs working at Wal*Mart need one more than anybody else!

      • 0 avatar

        Your thinking on the subject shows the value of a college education. You’re by no means alone in failing to understand that the worth of a person’s labor lies in the value they create. Some people enhance their productivity via education. Many do not.

    • 0 avatar

      I sympathize with the classical liberal economic view that workers’ wages are based on their marketable skill set. I consider unions a net minus for economic growth.

      Re: your second point #2 regarding college educated white collar workers.
      The premium for certain college degrees ARE falling. Savvy firms realize this and through better evaluation metrics groom/promote/educate their smart motivated blue collar staff. That said, college degree holders have an ally with US labor laws that frown on employee testing for promotion.

      Re: your second point #4 regarding what TN politician said.
      If speaking about a public issue widely debated and covered across the country IS breaking the law, then the law is an ass. A degenerate, disgusting ass.

      • 0 avatar

        Net minus for economic growth? As a practical matter, there are two type of wealthy in the world. There are those who believe they are in a zero sum game, where if someone else has something, they can’t have it themselves. There are others who understand that having a robust consuming middle class to sell to is a net gain. That also furthers democracy which means the wealthy might not end up with their heads on spikes or in baskets every few decades or so.

      • 0 avatar

        Trying to intimidate workers vote on a union is against the law. Attempting to gain a settlement from workers on wages and/or work rules by threatening to close down a factory and move it is also against the law. One can debate where it should be or not.

        As a business person it would be hard for me to invite a union into my shop. I’ve had enough issues with employees over the years. Most have been just great and are friends for life. But every now and then you get one who demands that you open your books and pay based on your ability to pay rather than based on market forces.

  • avatar

    I’m trying to edit my post and the system isn’t allowing it. I apologize for the misspells and bad composition I was attempting to fix.

  • avatar

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I have learnt a considerable amount from the Chattanooga VW articles.

    Firtstly, if you put the trash aside from both sides of the argument you do see that the UAW is struggling in a modern world. It can’t get a footing because of it’s own internal politics and the associated institutionalisation.

    This institutionalised culture prevents the UAW becoming flexible enough to meet the demands required for it to be successful.

    Secondly, workers or in this case I’ll call them potential consumers don’t all view the UAW like the UAW views itself. Workers as I’ve stated are after a viable and reliable product in the form of insurance to protect themselves from whether real or not greedy employers.

    The UAW doesn’t provide this service. This leads me to believe the UAW has to stop politicising it’s role. The UAW has to present itself as a neutral, entity, not anti or pro anything.

    VW did achieve a neutral stance in making an allowance for the UAW to come into THEIR business and try and market their product.

    Detroit and the memories and stories from Detroit is destroying the UAW. They just can’t convince the worker they can offer any tangible benefit to them.

    The UAW has lost out and is in decline, even when trying a new product like the German Model.

    Ruggles above spelt out some of the deficiencies.

    • 0 avatar

      UAW and GM seem interchangeable in your reply. One could reason that these two entities combined produce a negative synergism.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Institutionalisation is the biggest pitfall of any culture, whether is be corporate, political or bureaucratic.

        The problem with institutionalisation is the institution is put first and foremost. The institution must be protected at all costs. Then the leaders of the institutional protect themselves, until you go to the bottom of the pecking order.

        My view is the UAW is to rigid and can’t get out of the jam it finds itself in. The leadership can’t move and the rank and file are becoming tired of the poor leadship.

        A cultural change is needed. The UAW is a poor brand and is not trusted.

        If it was trusted a group of disjointed ‘right wing’ activist wouldn’t have shifted opinion and they would have gotten the prize of the South.

        The union movement (UAW) has to distance itself from the political scene and offer a product that is beneficial to all.

    • 0 avatar

      The role of the UAW in the demise of Detroit is somewhat over stated. Certainly, they played a role. But as modern auto manufacturing required up to 2000 acres, close to rail and Interstate, the inner city multi floor factories weren’t efficient any more. My blog partner, who worked in a Chrysler stamping plant, wrote a great piece on the issue.

      But as someone who sees red at the very thought of the “jobs bank” and the recollection of some of the UAW member sabotage of new Chrysler vehicles in the 1970s, I’m not giving them a complete pass. OEM management AND the U.S. government also played a role.

      In the 1950s, auto OEMs had a desire to provide their employees with a strong benefit package to attract and keep workers. This wasn’t a worker initiated deal back then, and there was a labor shortage. There were also wage and price controls in place. The auto OEMs were encouraged to increase benefits instead of bestowing wage increases. The former was permitted under the wage and price controls, while the latter was not. The country was trying to fight post war inflation.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        What you state is true. Look at my above comment.

      • 0 avatar
        jim brewer

        Sure, but why are we fighting the last war? With or without unions, labor costs are about 7th on the list of automaker worries. Labor unrest is about 15th on the list. Just a few years ago (less than five) starting pay in the UAW was only $15 an hour. Its gone up a little since then, but plenty of auto assembly workers make $19 or less per hour.

        I can see why the workers in Chattanooga turned down the union; presumably they decided the cost of the dues outweighed the benefit. But why in the world am I expected to get bent out of shape about this either way? Its clear from the coverage that plenty of people and especially crackpot politicians have psychiatric issues with unions, but what is the practical implication of unionization? I would say its nothing.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          @jim brewer
          Unions as you stated don’t have much to offer other than ‘taxing’ paychecks.

          The UAW needs to be able to offer the worker something in return for their outlay.

          What amazes me is the UAW used $5 million to try and woe a small number of workers and yet they complain about a few billboards and mouthy politicians.

        • 0 avatar

          Thanks for bring up that rather salient point. Building cars on an assembly line isn’t like it was decades ago. Vehicles are assembled from modules and assemblies and require much less labor than before, especially with the advent of robots.

  • avatar

    I’m disappointed. I come to this website to read about cars. I know, click on what you want, don’t click on what you don’t want, but is it me or is our entire life becoming politicized to the point of stupidity. I’m beginning to understand how the Romans felt.

    Tell me when the next Miata is coming out! ☺

  • avatar

    As an industry outsider, I urge you to keep stirring the pot vis a vis the Chattanooga situation. What fun it is as a spectator sport. Boots on the ground might make a good article or two, but please don’t forget to follow all the other ins and outs of the struggle. Some insider insight on what is really going on behind the scenes would be nice. Inside VW, inside the UAW, etc. You can sneak it in via the comments.

    I may be crazy, but I am getting the uneasy feeling that the UAW is in the process of violating the First Rule of Holes. Namely, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging immediately.

  • avatar

    I’m not a journalist, but I read a lot of opinion pieces, and frankly neither of those pieces was very good. I was so angry at both of them I didn’t want to even rad the comments.

    Opinion journalism is well and good, but I would ask you when you publish such pieces to consider what good the pieces add to your blog. There are plenty of places online to read high school debate team quality rhetoric. TTAC does a very good job on presenting fair and honest opinions about cars. Neither of those articles was fair or honest.

    What could you do differently? First, don’t assume because you publish contrasting points of view that you have been fair to each side. I know they teach that this is fair in journalism school, but really it’s just a way for editors to absolve themselves of bias. Contrasting opinions are fine, but are the opinions fair to the argument? Do they advance discussion? Do they insult people they should be trying to convince? What are fair points to bring up and what are poor points to bring up?

    I would like to see opinion pieces that are actually debating the legitament concerned if each side. And are willing to ask tough questions. Painting your opponents as boogeymen isn’t thought provoking, quite the opposite.

  • avatar

    Steve Lang and I are only about an hour’s drive from the Tennessee border. You could’ve sent him up on a weekend or something.

    • 0 avatar

      Steve Lang is in a business where relationships are half of the basis of success, along with hard work. Asking him to go into essentially his neighbors’ yard and interview a bunch of people on THIS topic bears a strong resemblance to asking him to play Russian roulette with his family’s future.

      • 0 avatar

        Very true. Even though it’s the equivalent distance to Gwinnett County, the fact that you’re entering unknown territory and new state boundaries make Tennessee feel even farther. Buckhead is already a foreign place haha.

        (Steve and some others are exceptions). Relationships? Pah, salespeople can’t be bothered with that. While they’re filling up your 2014 4Runner before purchase, they run inside QT and buy a couple packs of Marlbros. Maybe that’s why I’ve never seen a car salesman over six foot; the tobacco stunted their growth.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Boots on the ground, eh? Fuggedabout it. Here’s what we all need to think about. Why is it that we give credence to a New York City – based lawyer, who grew up in New Jersey and made a name for himself by writing about owning cantankerous European cars, …. when he writes something that’s basically about working in a car factory in Tennessee and unions.

    If we had an article written by a car factory worker in Tennessee, and the topic was “What it’s like to practice law and manage a rock band in New York City,” well…nobody would pay him any attention.

    So why did anyone pay any attention to Mr. Kitman? What’s he going to write about next…collegiate bass fishing tournaments?

  • avatar

    The two pieces were not presented equally at all on the front page. By posting the 2nd so soon after the first, I imagine the vast majority of visitors has to scroll past the 2nd to see the first. Thus, those who didn’t devote as much time on the site, missed the first.

  • avatar

    “who stereotypically value social cohesion”

    I hate to pick nits, but you misspelled coersion

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Corey Lewis: From what I see on other examples, that nice wheel was installed by an owner after the fact. 82:...
  • bullnuke: ToolGuy – figure 2/3 of a bale of hay per day @ $7.50/bale (price depends upon where you live)....
  • Jeff S: Most of us have more than 1 vehicle especially if you are married and have children. Owning any motorized...
  • Jeff S: @ToolGuy–I have noticed fewer gas stations in rural areas as well but I don’t know if that is...
  • RedRocket: Thanks for the laugh. Voice recognition is the most worthless thing ever introduced to the modern software...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber