Issue: Aug 2004


Windecker



Auto Workers Fragmented and Divided

by Ray Windecker

Non-union transplants and the global economy set new wage standards for autoworkers.

In the minds of we old timers, raised within working families during the depression years of the 1930s, there is no doubt that the union movement raised labor-intensive jobs to a middle-class economic level and provided a needed check and balance to management excesses.

Admittedly, all unions have not been pure and perfect, but on the whole, over the past few decades, many more corporate managements have proven to be corrupt than have union managements. Fortunately, the major domestic automotive industry groups, both corporate and union, have reasonably clear consciences.

However, workers at many of the highvolume transplant plants, cheered on and manipulated by the transplant managements and local business and political leaders, have with considerable smugness and self-congratulation proclaimed their independence from, and their intelligence in avoiding, that dreaded northern-Yankee institution of unionism. Their philosophic stance is that they, the transplant workers, get virtually the same wages and benefits without paying dues or enduring the boredom of attending meetings not forced on them by management.

That misguided philosophy worked well when U.A.W./Big 3 negotiations established the national wage scale. But, the outcry about globalization has overcome the wage-level protection heretofore provided by the union through the entry of the powerful Chinese boogey-man A boogey-man that has taken the wage-scale game out of the hands of the Americans. A few months ago, two Asian owned assembly plants in southern states offered $13 to $14 for hourly new hires, three or four dollars less than the going rate, citing the need to be world competitive. The long-term result will be that transplant workers, both new and current, will suffer the future negative effect of their overseas owners obvious policy of squeezing down the total American compensation package.

Transplant workers were forced to accept, without benefit of any negotiations, diminished current and future compensation packages. The oddity is that the wages of the unprotected U.S. workers are cut while Japanese and Korean workers, operating within homecountry union contracts, receive wage increases and bonuses and have the right to strike.

Globalization is real and will impact worldwide labor rates, both for those who sweat and those who use keyboards. Non-union people will take the brunt, as wages and benefits for both workers and retirees are diluted to meet the twin challenges of globalization and management hubris. (Unbridled hubris is exhibited when large retailers cut benefits and fulltime employment to counter their domestic competitors similar cuts a true self-feeding economic black-hole vortex for workers.)

The U.A.W., through negotiations, has reluctantly followed the transplants by agreeing to lower wages, but so far, only in supplier plants. In all reality, they have no choice. Once the down-spiral starts, everyone is pulled into the vortex. The breaking of the U.S. automotive industry wage structure by the transplant managements, facilitated by the anti-union stance of the transplant workers, opened the U.S. wage-loss gates considerably wider than those of other old-line, union-contracted, automotive- producing countries.

The transplant workers wanted a free ride but they will ultimately find that by breaking ranks they have exposed all American autoworkers, and particularly themselves, to the tender mercies of foreign managements who will, for their own political purposes, protect and favor their organized home-country employees at the expense of the fragmented and divided American automotive workers.

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