It was one thing when the United Auto Workers agreed many years ago to temporary "two-tiered" wage structures at the plants of Detroit's Big Three automakers. After all, it was argued, they'll be brought up to a level of full pay and benefits in several years, and new employees aren't as productive as the veterans.
A New York Times article by Nick Bunkley on Friday targeted for print on Saturday about the status of contract talks between Ford Motor Company and the United Auto Workers piqued my interest in a previously neglected but important matter.
Ford and the UAW are apparently close to an agreement. In describing what Ford workers are being asked to give up, Bunkley wrote the following (bolds are mine throughout this post):
Ford executives have said the company needs more concessions to keep G.M. and Chrysler from having an advantage.
.... The deal that U.A.W. workers at Ford approved in March got rid of cost-of-living pay increases and performance bonuses through 2010 and eliminated the jobs bank program, which allows laid-off workers to continue receiving most of their pay. In addition to those concessions, G.M. and Chrysler workers agreed to work-rule changes and a provision that bars them from striking.
What? From press coverage at the time, you would have thought that unionized GM and Chrysler workers made ginormous, humungous, unprecedented sacrifices to enable their companies to get through bankruptcy and to emerge as lean, mean vehicle-making machines.
Let's hope we haven't seen the last of economist Peter Morici on CBS. The University of Maryland business professor, appearing on the Early Show this morning, put the blame for the failure of Big Three bailout squarely on the shoulders of the UAW for its refusal to accept pay cuts putting its members on par with non-union workers at US plants owned by foreign car manufacturers. The Early Show did manage to balance things with some Dem demagoguery from the mayor of a Michigan city.
Morici singled out UAW president Ron Gettelfinger, calling him "unrealistic" and "selfish." Comic relief was later provided by Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing, Michigan, who seemed to confuse South Carolina with South Korea.
Only a professor, preferably a sociology professor, one with way too much time on his hands, could have come up with this one. His solution to the Detroit crisis that has the Big Three automakers on the brink of bye-bye? Unionize their foreign competitors manufacturing in the USA!
Now why didn't we think of that? Because we're not Jonathan Cutler, associate professor of sociology at Wesleyan University. His notion in a nutshell, contained in his Los Angeles Times column of today [emphasis added]:
[N]ot to tear down the historic and heroic gains won by prior generations of UAW workers. If there is hope long term -- for the unionized Big Three companies and for the UAW -- it rests in dealing with the unfinished business of the 1980s: unionizing the unorganized transplants.
Wednesday evening's dour Associated Press report by Tom Krisher and Ken Thomas on the proposed bailouts of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler acted as if their fates will determine the viability of the entire US auto industry, and waited until the 15th paragraph to name the primary reason why the companies are where they are financially. Beyond that, the AP report did not mention that United Auto Workers has flatly ruled out union contract concessions.
Here is how the AP's report began, followed by selected other paragraphs, including the one (of over 30) that mentioned labor costs (bolds after headline are mine):