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?

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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.

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Will The UAW Accept Performance Pay?

It’s not difficult to understand why the UAW has never contemplated agreeing to a wage rate tied to the profitability of its employer firms: simply put, it’s been a long time since big profits were the norm among the union-represented Detroit automakers. But now that Motown is back in the black and handing out record profit-sharing checks, it looks like the UAW could finally tie its own fate to that of the automakers… on certain conditions. UAW boss Bob King tells The WSJ [sub]

It would be an advantage if you can guarantee to the [Detroit] companies certain things on fixed costs so that they would remain competitive. When you’re successful, that’s good. But if you’re sharing more of the risk, you need to have more of the upside

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Bob King: I'm From The UAW And I'm Here To Help

UAW Boss Bob King spoke to Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference about what he calls “The 21st Century Union,” arguing that “the union has changed and we challenge business to change with us.” But while King talks cooperation and mutual benefit, his union is preparing for what promises to be a tough fight with the automakers to create a new contract that deals with the shop floor poison of the two-tier system, securing union representation on automaker boards, and rolling back union concessions without sending automakers back towards bankruptcy. Kings words are worth listening to and considering, but the upcoming contract negotiations will be the ultimate measure of the UAW’s professed changes.

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UAW Fights Likely Plant Closures

Though the auto bailout is being widely defended in the political realm as a jobs-saving measure, the industry sees the rescue’s value in precisely the opposite light, as industry and supplier execs rate “capacity rationalization” as the most positive effect of the bailout. And, reports Automotive News [sub], Ford and GM could still end up cutting as many as six more plants over the next few years as questions linger about volume recovery in the larger market. Of the three GM plants likely to be shut down, the former Saturn plant at Spring Hill, TN, is the most likely to survive as it includes a paint shop, a small engine plant and associated parts manufacturing facilities. In contrast, analysts note that GM’s Janesville, WI, plant is the firm’s oldest and is therefore far less likely to survive, and its Shreveport, LA, compact truck plant is part of “Old GM” and will likely be liquidated. Similarly, Ford’s Ranger plant in Minnesota, as well as its Avon, OH Econoline plant and its Flat Rock, MI Mustang plant could face shutdowns. Ranger is running out of production, Econoline has been losing share to Ford’s more-efficient Transit Connect, and Mustang has been losing market share to Camaro while facing a Mazda pullout from the Flat Rock plant.

Because GM is adding jobs at other plants, the net job loss from its three likely shutdowns (two of which are currently idle) could be relatively low, but then cost savings aren’t likely to match those accrued by past shutdowns either. Ford, meanwhile, is facing a bit more disruption if Mazda pulls out of Flat Rock, but could accrue more savings than GM as only the Ranger plant is scheduled to lose its production. In any case, the UAW will have to weigh its desire to keep plants open with its desire to mitigate the inequity of the two-tier wage system… as well as its desire to gain board seats. All of which could make the UAW’s upcoming bargaining session (not to mention the political debate about the auto bailout) much more interesting…

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Impala Production Shifts To Detroit, Creates "Nervousness" In Oshawa

When I visited GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant back in October, I was greeted with a few surprises. One was a small fire that flared briefly on my sweater after a cinder from the Volt’s body-welding station struck me. The other was the sight of GM’s latest, most high-tech green car being assembled on a line that was filled with GM’s oldest-school dinosaur cars, the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne. The scene was no doubt intended to inspire appreciation for the changing face of GM, but the scarcity of Volts amid the oceans of giant front-drive barges (production was just beginning) made it clear that it would be a while before Volt production would occupy much of the sprawling facility. With the DTS and Lucerne headed for retirement, the new 2013 Malibu will be taking up residence at Detroit-Hamtramck later this year, even as Volt production capacity is increased to hit next year’s 60k unit goal. And now GM is announcing that the next generation of Chevy Impala will be built at Detroit-Hamtramck as well, leaving folks in Oshawa saying “eh?” (or words to that effect).

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Will The UAW Fight For Second Tier Wages?

After reaping the hurricane by forcing “Tier One” workers at GM’s Orion Assembly plant into the UAW’s “Tier Two” last year, essentially giving workers a 50% pay cut, GM has been working with the UAW ever since to mitigate that decision. Now, Bloomberg reports that the UAW’s GM negotiator is targeting the $14/hour Tier One wages for growth in upcoming negotiations, arguing that the lower pay rate is “not a middle class wage.” But, he adds

The union doesn’t expect to reach $28 an hour this year for new workers, and it doesn’t intend to make GM uncompetitive

We’ll have to wait and see what that means, but any effort on the part of GM and the UAW to reduce the gap between Tier One and Tier Two wages will help relieve the inevitable shop-floor tensions that such inequity creates.

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Ford: UAW Wages Still $8 Higher Than The Competition

Ford is tooling up for what is likely to be a tough UAW contract negotiation in light of its return to hefty profits. And in hopes of shifting the conversation from its strong financial performance, Ford is highlighting the fact that it still pays $8 more per hour than its competition. Of course, there has been improvement, as Ford notes at its fordahead.com website

Ford’s average hourly cost per employee for wages and benefits in the U.S. reached about $75 per hour in 2007, prior to the negotiation of a new national contract. By negotiating an agreement with the UAW that year, and by adding modifications in 2009, we were able to substantially improve the competitiveness of our labor costs. Had we not reached this agreement, our average hourly wage rate would have remained simply unsustainable — and utterly uncompetitive — and Ford would not be in a position to create new jobs or bring new work into our U.S. plants.

But Ford has only itself to blame for some of those higher labor costs, as some $2/hour of its labor cost disadvantage is a result of its record-high profit-sharing checks, according to the DetNews. And, says Ford, once new “second tier” hires enter the Ford workforce, it expects wages rates to drop to parity with the transplants. In short, Ford is making the case to stay the course, working through existing contract changes to get to parity with the transplants. But given the fact that Ford is already making hefty profits, don’t expect the UAW to simply roll over. The battle lines have been drawn… but nobody knows how the conflict will actually play out.

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A Salute To The American Taxpayer, From The United Auto Workers (Local 1268)

Does the UAW owe taxpayers a thank you? Chrysler’s attempts at thanking the taxpayers in the midst of bailout-mania seemed to draw more ire than respect, so it’s understandable why the UAW has not made any effort to thank taxpayers for the auto bailout, without which the union surely would not have survived long. But now that UAW local 1268 has made a somewhat belated, but nonetheless earnest gesture of thanks, the national UAW’s silence on the matter suddenly seems a bit deafening.

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UAW Membership Increases!

And no, it’s not an April Fools day story! Bloomberg reports

The United Auto Workers membership rose 6 percent to 376,612 last year, the first gain in six years as U.S. automakers began hiring amid a recovery in sales.

The UAW’s membership increased by 21,421 members from 355,191 in 2009, according to a union filing today with the U.S. Department of Labor.

UAW President Bob King has wasted no time in declaring this a sign of recovery in what you might call the UAW’s “core business”:

This increase is a reflection of new organizing by the UAW, the recovery of the domestic auto industry and UAW members who won a first contract during the year. We hope to continue this growth in 2011 and beyond, as we fight to win a more fair and democratic process for workers to organize.

Of course, King’s attempt to link this minor improvement in his union’s membership to the recovery of the domestic auto industry is the real April Fools joke here…

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GM Books $1.6b Gain On Delphi Share Sale/Pension Shell Game

As galling as the auto bailout was for many Americans, the hidden “stealth bailouts” that occurred during the government-led industry reorganization are often even more galling. Today the final chapter of one of those “stealth bailouts” has taken place, as GM has sold its stake in its spun-off supplier Delphi for $3.8b, booking a $1.6b gain on the deal. So, how is GM divorcing its former in-house supplier a stealth bailout? Back in the dark Summer of 2009, the government organized a GM-led rescue of Delphi, which had been languishing in bankruptcy since 2005 (after GM. By buying a chunk of Delphi for $2.5b of the government’s money and selling it back for a profit, GM’s helped itself to a little extra bump of public money. Oh, and did we mention that GM dropped all kind of pensions in Delphi’s lap when it spun the supplier, including workers who had never been employed by Delphi.

But that’s not the worst part: any guesses as to why GM’s stake in Delphi is suddenly worth so much more? A recovering industry, perhaps? Wrong. Shortly after GM bought back its stake in Delphi, the supplier dumped $6.5b worth of pensions onto the government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Company, causing huge benefit cuts and hidden government costs. What did the PBGC’s stake, given as “partial compensation” for that pension dump, yield it? A cool $594m. Meanwhile, thanks to the government ‘s arguments, GM still had to top-up UAW retiree pensions, leaving non-union retirees and members of other unions out in the cold [read all about it in a just-released GAO report in PDF here]. A shell game inside of a political payoff inside of another shell game, in other words. There’s nothing to not love here…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Which Automaker Will The UAW Target?

The WSJ gets a little closer to the truth about the UAW’s incredible disappearing transplant organizing campaign, reporting

On Tuesday, UAW leaders meeting here described plans to reach out to foreign unions and consumers in what would be their first major campaign since failed efforts in the last decade at Nissan Motor Co. and auto-parts supplier Denso Corp. They hope to be more successful by reaching out to foreign unions at the auto makers’ overseas plants and bringing pressure from prayer vigils, fasts or protests at dealerships.

A person familiar with the matter said the union is now planning to target one foreign auto maker and has narrowed its list to three or four companies. Inside the union, much of the talk centers on targeting the now-struggling Japanese auto maker Toyota or Korea’s Hyundai, this person said.

The UAW has set aside tens of millions of dollars from its strike fund to bankroll its campaign. International actions are to be coordinated with foreign unions and run by some three dozen student interns recruited globally, UAW officials said. When the interns return to their home countries after learning about the UAW efforts in the U.S., they’ll be expected to organize protests against the auto maker, UAW officials said.

OK, so it’s a little bit strange that the UAW is entrusting a campaign that UAW President Bob King calls “the single most important thing we can do for our members ” to a bunch of interns. Still, with “tens of millions of dollars” allocated towards the campaign, some automaker somewhere will be feeling the union’s hot breath on its neck in due course. So, which automaker will the UAW target? Which automaker should they target? And with the UAW apparently refusing to fight the two-tier wage structure, will any transplant or foreign workforce want to join up?

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UAW: Transplant War Still On

Though things have been quiet enough to make us wonder whether or not the UAW’s effort to organize America’s transplant auto factories is still on or not, the UAW’s Bob King confirms to Automotive News [sub] that the war is still on. King insists that forthcoming contract negotiations with the Detroit Three aren’t a distraction from the transplant organizing campaign, saying

Everything is moving forward.

But King isn’t ready to disclose any results from the organizing campaign, refusing to share any of the automaker responses to his organizing principles. We’re guessing that’s because they sent roughly the same response as Honda. Meanwhile, King still says the UAW will assimilate “at least one” transplant, but still refuses to identify the maker. Our guess is that King will organize a “Mission Accomplished” moment at NUMMI, the sewer into which all of the UAW’s contradictions flow. Though best known as a Toyota plant (in large part due to the UAW’s misleading protests against the Japanese automaker there), NUMMI has always been a union shop, and its new owner, Tesla, hardly qualifies as a “transplant.” In fact, such a move would come up short of even replacing the union jobs that were lost at NUMMI when GM pulled out of the joint venture during bankruptcy. If NUMMI is to be the UAW’s “victory” it will prove simply that the incredible shrinking union considers barely treading water a “victory.” Surprised?

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UAW, Detroit Gear Up For Contract Battle

With its effort to organize transplant manufacturers stalled, the UAW is turning all of its attention to what may be one of its toughest contract negotiations ever. The union’s rank-and-file is pushing hard to take back concessions given during the bailout, but at the same time, the union has to avoid burdening the recovering US automakers with competitive disadvantages. And because the three Detroit automakers have performed so differently over the last year (Ford made a $6.6b profit last year, GM made $4.7b and Chrysler lost $652m), the tradition of pattern bargaining will only make negotiations even tougher. But it’s huge bonuses for executives at Ford that is getting the war of words started early, as Bill Johnson, plant chairman for UAW Local 900, threatens

If they don’t restore everything (we) gave up, the membership is going to knock it down. The bonuses that were just announced are just ridiculous.

And that’s a good place for the UAW to begin negotiations, but they’re realistically not going to get everything back. So how is this going to play out?

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UAW Transplant Organizing Campaign DOA?

Do you recall the UAW’s last-ditch bid for relevance, its campaign to organize the transplant auto factory workers of America? The union’s campaign against the Hondas, Toyotas, BMWs and Hyundais of the world was supposed to begin in earnest in January, but all they have to show for it thus far is a perfunctory slap-down from Honda. So what happened? Where’s the confrontation, the picketing, the accusations of human rights abuses? Remember, the UAW has all of its skin in this gambit, now that i ts President has confirmed that

If we don’t organize the transnationals, I don’t think there is a long-term future for the UAW.

But based on the dearth of media reports on either the campaign’s success or failure, it would seem that the UAW has given up on the effort and is hoping everyone just forgets about it…

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  • Fred As a British Car Fan I liked them, but then I sat in one and changed my mind. I like the unique looks of the newer ones.
  • FreedMike Not much to look at, but these were sweet to drive.
  • EBFlex Ford finally making a good decision although they should shut down their EV operations and investment all together. Why lose that money too?
  • Mike Lol. This is the king of suvs. And its made by GM.Why is everyone trashing it?Top of its its class for a quarter century.
  • Frank Drove past there last week, plant has a huge poster of a bronco on the outside. I was thinking "Is that where they build the new broncos?" I know they use to make the Edge and that other mundane SUV there but I believe both have been canned.