Saturday, December 13, 2008

The GOP vs. the UAW

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Senate Republicans have halted the auto bailout plan for now but it appears President Bush will continue adding to his legacy as the man who sold out free-markets:

United Auto Workers President Ronald A. Gettelfinger lashed out against Senate Republicans a day after a congressional compromise on an auto industry bailout failed, accusing the lawmakers of trying to "pierce the heart of organized labor."

Gettelfinger, at a news conference yesterday in Detroit, welcomed a statement from the White House that said the administration was willing to use funds targeted for bailing out the financial system to help the autoworkers. But he repeated his insistence that bankruptcy isn't an option, saying failure at any one automaker would force firms across the industry to collapse.

The Republican Senate proposal sought to cut UAW wages, bringing them in line -- or at "parity" -- with what workers earn at foreign-owned, non-unionized plants in the United States. A failure in Congress to reach an agreement on the wage-cut proposal Thursday night doomed the $14 billion industry rescue package.

"They believe workers are expendable and wages mean nothing," Gettelfinger said.
That last line is standard union rhetoric but it has no real relevance here and now. UAW workers in Detroit make anywhere from $40 to $50 per hour (and in some cases much more) for doing labor that is not considered highly skilled. The American public finds it hard to swallow that a union whose workers make $100,000 per year (not including overtime and the generous benefits package worth tens of thousands more) are not willing to give any meaningful concessions to keep the industry alive.

The GOP has the backing of the public on this issue, especially now that jobs are being shed with regularity. Many people I've talked with--hard-core union folks--say that the US auto industry has failed to exploit the one big advantage they have, the ability to manufacture and sell American brands cheaper than foreign manufacturers. The sole reason for that is that the UAW got greedy every time a contract was up for negotiation and added benefits and pay raises on an already bloated compensation apparatus. Now we find ourselves at the point where lean and mean companies (those companies that forced the UAW to concede to reduce wages) will survive and come out way ahead in the long run while the morbidly obese and out of shape American makers will crash and burn.

The UAW has to give back something and that's something they've been extremely loathe to do in the past (check out the 2,215 page contract as exhibit A). Well this is the future and if the UAW gives a damn at all about the economy as they profess or their members, they'll agree to give-backs and bring the pay scale for American makers in line with those of Japanese firms.. Perhaps they should do it the purely democratic way and put it to a member vote--one in which the vote is not secret, of course.

Exit question: Is Gettlefinger the prototypical union rep or not? The dude looks a bit shady.

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