UAW Contract Negotiations Blow Past Deadline, Marchionne Lashes Out
The United Auto Workers and the Detroit automakers have been locked in negotiations for months now, as both sides seek to redefine their relationship in the post-bailout era. And though all sides have stressed the importance of avoiding intractable disputes in an alleged new spirit of cooperation, it seems that the prospects of a quick, painless conclusion to negotiations remains elusive. The UAW’s contracts with Chrysler and GM both blew past their deadlines at midnight last night, and Ford, the only manufacturer at theoretical risk of a strike, extended negotiations earlier this week. TTAC has not covered these negotiations in much depth for the simple reason that little information leaks out of them. But with contracts expiring and optimistic rhetoric crashing on the rocks of reality, the frustration is clearly starting to boil over. And who is surprised that Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is the first to let his frustration show?
Saab Unions: Bankruptcy Two Weeks Away If Pay Is Delayed (And It Will Be)
Saab has already warned its workers that paychecks due tomorrow could be delayed until “committed” funds from investors arrive, but Bloomberg reports that the warning may not be enough. According to the report
Any delay in the August payments will prompt the unions immediately to start a process aimed at ensuring state coverage of wages in the event of the carmaker’s failure, officials from the IF Metall and Unionen labor groups said. The unions, after gaining employees’ backing, would first file payment requests with Saab. If salaries remain unpaid in seven days, the unions may then ask a district court to declare Saab bankrupt.
That could put Saab into bankruptcy in as little as two weeks. Saab’s long nightmare seems to be drawing to a close.
Saab Board Pay Bump Sparks Union Anger
With debt collectors closing in on all sides, Saab’s shaky PR took another hit today as the Swedish media repotred that members of the board of Swedish Automobile (SWAN), Saab’s parent company, received pay increases of some 633 percent over 2010. Thelocal.se reports that
New chairman of the board, Hans Hugenholtz, received a raise of 633 percent, from 147,150 kronor (about $23k) to 611,163 kronor (about $950k). Others also had their pay increased significantly.
Though the amounts are relatively small, and the dwindling ranks of unquestioning Saab supporters argue that the compensation is low compared to the Dutch average (SWAN is incorporated in The Netherlands), this is just the latest PR disaster to hit the struggling automaker. One Saab employee sums up the mood:
It feels like everyone is out to grab what they can get.
And no wonder they feel that way. Not only did worker paychecks arrive late, but Sweden’s national debt office has begun foreclosing on the first of its outstanding claims… and the initial amount (about $58k) could have been covered by the chairman’s pay increase alone. Sending the message that board compensation is more important than staying out of insolvency has to be some of the worst PR imaginable. Still, some will defend Saab no matter what…
Marchionne: Don't Hold Your Breath For UAW Board Seats
From the “sidelines” of the MBS conference in Traverse City Michigan, Wards Auto reports that Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is not keen on giving the UAW a board seat. UAW President Bob King has been pushing for VW Works Council-style representation on the Chrysler board, but as Marchionne explains
The best intervention that the unions or labor or organized labor can bring to the party is a support for the choice of the right leader to lead the organization… I understand Bob. I understand what he’s saying (but) we have to be very careful that we don’t exaggerate the value of co-determination
Co-determination gives rise to two decision-making bodies. The executive board makes decisions. And the unions sit on supervisory boards, one of which is the choice of the CEO. The most fundamental and difficult decision that a board makes is the choice of a CEO. If you make the right choice, issues with labor unions will not arise
Considering the UAW VEBA trust fund is the single minority shareholder in his company, Marchionne is admirably and typically frank in dismissing his union boss’s ambition. And since Marchionne doesn’t intend on retiring before 2015, his answer might as well have been “why do you need a board seat, when you have me?” But there’s another aspect to his argument that reveals that Bob King might have already doomed the union’s chances at a board seat.
UAW In Top Secret Talks With "Vast Majority" Of Transplants
Despite the fact that no transplant automaker has admitted to being in direct talks with the UAW, union boss Bob King told the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminar [via Reuters]
The vast majority of the assemblers here in the United States have at least agreed to confidential discussions. We’ve had productive discussions. The last thing we want is confrontation.
So, the issue isn’t that the transplants are all responding to the UAW’s overtures like Honda, which has said
Honda has had no dialogue with the UAW and has no interest in a discussion with them.
No, talks are happening with the “vast majority” of transplants… they just happen to be secret talks (which, at least in the case of VW, appear to be going nowhere). That in itself is strange, considering the UAW’s previous, highly-public approach to naming and shaming non-union transplant manufacturers. More likely: secret talks keep the union from losing face and the transplants from looking like “human rights abusers.” My how things change fast…
The Case Against UAW Representation On Automaker Boards
One of the many defining differences between this year’s contract negotiations between the Detroit automakers and the UAW is a new possible concession on the table: boardroom representation for the union. Inspired by the German system of works councils and union representation on supervisory boards, UAW President Bob King told Bloomberg that
If I had a magic wand, I’d take the German law and put it in the U.S… Workers should have representation on the board
But, in a thoughtful editorial, the Detroit News’s Daniel Howes warns that board representation may be more of a challenge to the union than a benefit. Howes notes
The UAW’s pursuit of board-room seats, to the extent it becomes a key demand in this post-implosion bargaining season, is fraught with potential complications. Among them is the cultural misperception that what is deeply embedded in Germany’s corporate reality is easily transferrable to 21st-century industrial America.
Profits, Pattern Bargaining, Performance Pay On The Docket As UAW Negotiations Begin
With the Detroit Free Press reporting that combined Q2 profits for the Detroit automakers could hit $4b, the quadrennial negotiations with the UAW which opened today with a meeting between Chrysler and the union could be a tough slog. And because the profit outlook is mixed, with GM and Chrysler likely to improve profitability and Ford likely to see a drop in net takings, the long-standing tradition of “pattern bargaining” could come to an end. Ford currently pays about a dollar more per hour than GM and about $2 per hour more than Chrysler (which is partially owned by the UAW’s VEBA trust fund), and Ford also shoulders more of workers’ health care costs than its cross-town rivals. And UAW president Bob King admits
Being really blunt about it, when you don’t represent the overwhelming majority of an industry, which we don’t any more, then you can’t do pattern bargaining
Already unfairly disadvantaged by the UAW (Ford is the only Detroit-based automaker without a no-strike contract) and facing falling profitability, Ford is telling the union not to expect wage increases. But does that mean the union’s only choice is to bring GM and Chrysler up to Ford’s pay and benefit levels?
Audi: On Second Thought, We'd Prefer A Plant In Mexico
It was quite a coincidence when, just last week, Audi restated its interest in US production facilities on the same day that the UAW announced it was in talks to possibly organize VW’s new Chattanooga plant. At the time we noted that
With Audi execs insisting on the need for more US production capacity, a UAW win in a Volkswagen vote could have serious implications for the firm’s future expansion.
Turns out, it didn’t even have to come to a vote. Just over a week after CEO Rupert Stadler insisted that “It is totally clear that we need new production capacity in the U.S,” Audi has suddenly decided that things look nicer in union-free Mexico. Automotive News [sub] reports that Stadler wants a new Mexican plant to build the Q5 SUV, but notes that
it was still unclear if Stadler would have his way in the face of opposition from some of Volkswagen’s top managers, who wanted Audi to make use of the new VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Did the UAW’s sudden announcement that it was in talks with VW’s global works council about organizing Chattanooga have anything to do with the decision? AN [sub] won’t say, but the timing can’t be ignored. Audi’s US production may just have been the first victim of the UAW’s transplant organization campaign.
UAW Talking To "A Lot" Of Transplants, But Soft-Pedals Goal
After the UAW threatened to start 2011 with a bang by going after foreign-owned “transplant” factories and accusing uncooperative firms of human rights violations, the union’s campaign suddenly went quiet earlier this year. With the union’s fate apparently hanging in the balance, all we’d heard was a polite “no thanks” from Honda and a more subtle message from Hyundai, and little else. Was the war still on, we wondered? UAW boss Bob King tells Reuters that yes, it definitely is… sort of.
To our pleasant surprise a lot of companies have agreed to confidential discussions with us. What they’ll lead to, I don’t know. Some days I’m worried, some days I’m frustrated. Are we putting too much hope into these discussions? I don’t know, but we’re continuing them and we feel like we’re making some progress
And that’s not all…
UAW Backs "Strong" Emissions Standards After All… For A Price
Last week I wondered aloud about where the UAW stands on fuel economy, inspired by the union’s apparent flip-flopping between supporting the companies that employ its workers and backing its environmental allies on the left with talk of its commitment to green jobs. And after expressing concern about proposed CAFE increases, it seems the UAW is flopping back towards the environmentalist side of the equation, joining the so-called “Blue-Green Coalition” of labor leaders and environmental groups in expressing its vague support for “strong” emissions standards in a letter to President Obama [ PDF]. But with CAFE negotiations coming down to within 5 MPG or so of a final “number” for the 2052 standard, the letter’s lack of commitment means it’s still not clear where the UAW comes down in the policy debate. So instead of highlighting the union’s commitment to the environment, the letter ends up serving as a window into the UAW’s cynical, yet self-deluding side.
Ask The Best And Brightest: Why Can't Chrysler Workers Stop Partying On Their Lunch Break?
Chrysler Auto Workers in Trenton Caught Smoking and Drinking During Lunch Breaks: MyFoxDETROIT.com
Every time Chrysler workers get busted for drinking and smoking pot during their lunch breaks, we tend to get one of two reactions from the B&B: either the lunchtime partying is emblematic of the entitlement of all union workers, or it happens at every plant in the US but Chrysler just got unlucky enough to get caught. But this is the third scandal since last September involving Chrysler workers consuming drugs and alcohol on camera ( twice at Jefferson North, now in Trenton), and (as far as I can tell) no other company has suffered similar embarrassment.
So I want the convenient generalizations put aside for a moment: clearly this is not a union problem or an American worker problem or even an auto workers-in-general problem… at this point it’s a Chrysler problem. But why? Does Chrysler have lower morale, worse union locals, insufficient training and accountability, or is the media simply targeting it? Someone’s got to get to the bottom of this before Chrysler becomes a complete laughing stock… so let’s hear your (constructive) thoughts. Oh, and ideas for actually fixing the problem (Chrysler has already announced suspensions) probably wouldn’t hurt either.
Where Does The UAW Stand On Fuel Economy?
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…
Will VW's New Chattanooga Plant Become The UAW's First Southern Outpost?
Earlier today Bertel noted that the UAW’s goal of organizing “at least one” transplant automaker could be motivated by a desire to earn “brownie points” from the Detroit automakers. But the question that has remained unanswered ever since the union announced its transplant campaign is “which automaker will let the UAW into its plant?” Now that question may have its answer, as Automotive News [sub] reports:
and the UAW have intensified discussions about organizing workers at a new plant in Tennessee, German newspaper Handelsblatt reported in a preview of an article that will run Tuesday.
The newspaper, citing Volkswagen officials, said the union and automaker have held meetings and a workshop over the matter in the past few weeks.
VW insists that talks are still preliminary, and that no organizing campaign has yet begun. But, say the UAW, VW’s long tradition of worker unions “more willing to talk to unions about representation.” Ultimately VW says the decision to organize “belongs to our workers alone,” which implies a lot more openness to organization than Honda, for example, has indicated. But Southern workers seem to be largely ambivalent towards the UAW, so just because VW could let organizers into the plant doesn’t mean workers will necessarily vote for union representation. Meanwhile, there’s no word on how a possible UAW organizing campaign could affect a possible new VW/Audi assembly and engine plant that is being considered for the US according to AN [sub]. With Audi execs insisting on the need for more US production capacity, a UAW win in a Volkswagen vote could have serious implications for the firm’s future expansion.
Quote Of The Day: Y'all Come Back Real Soon Now Edition
“I don’t see any problems here. I don’t see how they could help me out,” said [Rocky] Long, who’s worked at the Co. assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., for five years. Of the union representatives who came to his home this year, he said, “I really didn’t give them the time of the day.”
Bloomberg reports on the challenges the UAW might face if they should care to pick Hyundai to be the “at least one” transplant automaker they’ve vowed to organize by the end of the year. But why would the UAW target Hyundai? According to Berkley Professor Harley Shaiken
Hyundai is a rising star. It’s a company that’s got something to lose if it is embroiled in a PR issue.
Shaiken’s previous idea for the UAW’s “Mission Accomplished” moment: convince Toyota to re-open a UAW-operated production line at NUMMI. Funny thing is, that idea occurred to him just three months after the union tried to “embroil” Toyota in a completely misleading “PR issue.” But that must have just been a holdover from the 20th Century UAW… wait, what year is it again?
Orion Labor Issues Resurface As Union Takes Strike Vote [UPDATE: Strike Authorized]
[UPDATE: Automotive News [sub] reports that Linc workers voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize a strike, noting
With the strike authorization, the local can send notice to LINC that workers could strike after five business days if progress isn’t made toward a contract.
Ninety-eight percent of the 88 workers who voted yesterday agreed to authorize a strike, a representative at the union hall said this morning.
We’ve been watching the drama at GM’s Lake Orion plant unfold for some time now, as an “ innovative labor practices” agreement between the UAW, GM and the government has already drawn UAW protests and NLRB complaints, as well as increased backlash against the union’s two-tier wage structure. Thus far GM had been able to prevent Tier One workers from being forced into the second tier, by shuffling them off to the Flint HD pickup plant. But with GM’s truck inventory soaring to “Old GM” levels, Flint is being idled, and those “Tier One Gypsies” are once again facing the choice between moving to some other plant or accepting a 50% paycut to return to Orion. And now, another labor issue is raising its ugly head, as Crainsdetroit reports that
About 125 workers for a critical supplier [Linc Logistics] inside the General Motors Co. Orion Assembly Plant are taking a strike authorization vote today as a means of accelerating contract talks.