Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A view of the UAW GM strike from an outsider...

GM auto workers in the United Auto Workers Union have chosen to strike. I want to get it out right now, I want fair wages and benefits for all workers but what that means is different in different industries and positions within those industries. Making cars has become an automated process, and with every process that becomes automated, we assume that the quality will go up, and work force numbers to go down. Seems simple but is it? The current UAW contract has a protection clause in it that allows GM to automate the assembly line, but here’s the kicker; they still have to pay the worker whose job was automated full pay and benefits. I’m not sure how you run a business profitably with contracts like that.

It is also common knowledge that fork lift drivers in the UAW make more than $100,000 a year. I would say if you told me $40,000 plus benefits I might not flinch but $100,000? The average Lawyer and Doctor make around that figure. What’s wrong with that picture? In addition, GM’s “non-productive” payroll is creeping up to an unsustainable number and at some point paying people that don’t produce will put you out of business. This is not France. The program must end.

There are two parties responsible here; the management that is accountable for allowing wages and benefits to get so out of whack with their competitors, and the union that seems to think that GM is in business to subsidize the entire population of Michigan, and guarantee a secure and comfortable lifestyle.

GM needs to send a message to the younger generation that manual labor jobs are shrinking and education is a must in order to transition from a labor intensive economy to an information based one. What the current generation’s parents have made by working at GM, is no longer sustainable and the jobs will be more technical than physical. The days of $100,000 fork lift drivers are over and if your job is automated you need to look for other employment.

The UAW needs to understand these are good jobs at good wages but there are other hosts in this world that have labor forces willing to work for half that. It is not a threat it is reality. The alternative is GM will be forced to move and close all of its facilities to more accommodating locations. It is better to work for $60,000 than to have no job at all.

The UAW and GM should be in this together. It is in both parties interest to work together. It is not us and them, just us. We can compete with Japan and others if we work together. Just because it is the way it has always been done, doesn’t mean it will always be done this way. UAW please be smart and work with GM because in most American’s minds, you already have a pretty good package in hand. You will not get a huge amount of support for more.

Those of us without union representation have little sympathy for greed. We also have little sympathy for bad management. What we would like to see is a deal that pays productive workers fairly, and makes GM a competitive player in the world auto market. Just a thought…


Kenny said...


I find it very hard to be sympathetic towards GM and the UAW. It's like when the baseball players and later the hockey players went on strike - if they go out of business so be it. Let these rich, overpaid, underworked fools go out of business.

Do we still have voluntary import quotas on cars?

Anonymous said...

Rich -

At least three mistakes in your post. 1)The rank & file UAW members did not vote to strike, their leadership called the strike.
2)No fork lift driver earns 100K. For a 30 year worker the combined wage and benefit package might cost GM 90K - but that figure doesn't show up on their W-2.
3)Where are the underpaid doctors & lawyers you're refering to? Most of them earn serveral times that amount.

Rich said...

3 Mistakes:
1)The leadership represents the union and voted to strike. Are you saying if there was a vote the rank and file would have voted not to strike? According to the story 73,000 workers walked off the job. Not sure why it matters?
2)There were stories in the local Detroit press about the wage. 90K fully loaded for a forklift driver still makes the point
3)Lawyers average under $90K but I will adjust the doctor average to $150,000 but many family practitioners make less based on location.
Still the wages for the work need adjustment. Longevity has value but I think most people believe auto workers make much more than average workers in similar positions outside the auto industry. The point is they need to be reasonable and work together or the entire US economy and Michigan specifically lose.