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The UAW: Help Or Hindrance?

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In the past 24 hours, UAW president Ron Gettelfinger has been on a media offensive, and man, does he have a lot to get off his chest. Via articles in Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit Bureau, and Automotive News [sub. required], he's said, among other things:

  1. No, the UAW will not make wage concessions. UAW wages aren't any higher than those at Japanese factories based in the US, once you figure in bonuses and such. (Well, they're probably not. He'd be willing to take a look at the other companies "books" to verify it, though.)
  2. No, the UAW will not accept the contribution of company stock to its healthcare plan in lieu of cash. "Just because we're a union doesn't mean we're stupid."
  3. No, that clause in the bailout agreement that says loans would immediately go into default if the UAW strikes doesn't have any effect on UAW policy. "Our contracts are not a part of this agreement."
  4. Yes, the federal government should look into the incentives that some states have offered to foreign manufacturers, because those subsidies are hurting competition and causing job loss at American companies.

In Ron's defense, at least one of those arguments has merit: the union would, in fact, be very stupid to gamble its healthcare plan on company stock. His other points...well, they're up for debate.

Number 1 and number 3 seem like a bit of posturing. Yes, technically the bailout agreement is between the Big 3 and the feds, but to imply that the UAW doesn't take that agreement into account or that the UAW won't be affected by the bailout's outcome (or worse, bankruptcy filings)? That's just chest-beating. Item number 4 is weak at best, and might result in some unpleasant litigation.

Here's the question, though: has the UAW outlived its usefulness? When it was founded in the 1930s, America was deep in its Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, and companies had the upper hand in the workplace. Drawing on the socialist ideology popular at the time (remember the WPA?), unions gave workers leverage and did some other nifty things along the way, like promoting civil rights.

Over 70 years later, though, labor laws have become much more stringent, with workplace oversight enshrined at the federal, state, and local levels. Healthcare plans have become commonplace, as have 401ks and other retirement plans.

So  today, in 2009, what does the UAW do that's special and necessary? Is the UAW still useful for workers and the free market economy? Or is it just getting in the way? Your thoughts are, as always, greatly appreciated.

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Comments (7)
  1. "Retired"

    Unions were formed due to the greed of company owners. Low wages,lack of safety,work enviorment.long hours, etc. They made the middle class and I don't think 50 or 60 thousand a year is out of line for the time workers spend in a plant or coal mine.
     
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  2. "Get rid of the union"

    Get rid of the union, their entitlement mentality, their greed, and their abuses. GM should go the route of bankcruptcy or move jobs South (Southern states or Mexico).
     
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  3. "Hmmm"

    Although I'm not what anyone would call a union fan, I don't think dismantling the UAW would be feasible--for a lot of reasons. And although bankruptcy would give GM more freedom, it would certainly screw over a lot of hardworking family folks.
    On the other hand, I think the unions have fixed a lot of the problems they intended to fix--like work hours, safety, etc. I think $50k or $60k is totally fine wage-wise, but I wonder if they couldn't get salaries in that range on their own. It sometimes feels like the UAW gets in the way of the workers' best interests and slows down the industry as a whole. They can't be blamed for the current collapse, but they're not entirely helping....
     
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  4. "Unions"

    The issue is not whether the union should exist or not, that in the end is for the members to decide. The problem is that unions haven't had a lot to do other than try and screw over the boss and demand pay rises. An effective union would look at issues other than just pay and conditions. It needs to look at what it can do to help keep plants alive and the business going. Strikes should be kept to a minimum rather than the default position. They should also be looking at retraining and how their members can ensure their ongoing employment. But in the end they enjoy the power to call a halt and throw their weight around. Most union leaders around the world are glorified thugs who enjoy a fight and not intellectuals looking at the long term and industry trends.
    Whatever happens things like the jobs bank has to go, more than anything this a weight around the manufacturers necks. Healthcare should be taken over by the federal government and rolled out to all industries rather than run by the companies and unions, again this would shift some of the weight from the co's necks and place them on a more even footing. hen the companies need to be tough and say any wage increases in the future must be set off by equal or greater effeciency gains. Part of the reason the unions have got what they want is the weakness of bosses to say F you and horse you rode in on.
     
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  5. "mr"

    Unions are easy dogs to kick when things are not going well.. How about all these companies that are having problems that do not have unions..we can not or do not want to blame mgmt for anything.. they are uning the show.
    Unions are the only rights emoployees have..why take that away. Heck, it is about impossible to start a union today with the laws favoring business so they can stall elections and not settle strikes issues,etc.
    We are fast approaching the 1930s in working and economic conditions in this country.
    What union cause this wall street mess.. Banks cause a lot of this problems..noone is saying lets get rid of the banks or corporation. Or even blaming mgmt for their greedy ways on wall street.
    Heck, we can not bring ourselves to put this Madof crood in jail....What union did he belong to that caused all this robbery of peoples monies,etc.
    No, Unions are not the problem. These import auto companies are like NFL football owners.. they want to be supported by the taxpayers to buildin their communities.. What kind of corporate welfare is that, for ball teams or import auto companies.. GM, etc is getting loans not freebies, by the way.
    Best to look at the big picture and see what welfare corporations have in general before start blaming unions for all of their problems.
    Why not raise up the pay of the imports instead of cutting someone elses pay. This low pay mentality is crazy and yet we let the mgmt pay scale reach skyhigh and no controls on it, at all.
    I an not a union member but I an not a union hater either. Cause I do not make the money they do, does not make me want them to be destroyed.
     
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  6. "Mr."

    The union has outlived its usefullness only if corporate greed is dead. To say that America doesn't need organized labor is like saying we don't need a military during peace time. Union made American middle class needs a guardian entity to look after the workers interests. The plutocracy pulling the strings of governments would love to see the labor envirnment return to pre-union days. No more health & safety in the work place, health benefits gone, third world wages, 16 hour work days etc. would get a lot of corporate CEO's even bigger bonuses. Look at what's happend to our mines since the unions have been quashed in places like Kentucky, WV and others because of the naive belief that employers would VOLUNTARILY impose safety rules. Shame on this country for creating the need for organized labor. If living in the worlds only super power can't even get you the health care enjoyed by citizens of Japan and other places unless you work for a company like GM; then yes, let their be unions. If you have an organization that rose from the depression by creating a middle class due to collective barganing provided by our free society making America the most envied country on Earth, then yes, let their be unions. If you have an organization that has created a class of American society that has invested more in this country through income taxes and money spent hear at home in the American economy then yes, let their be unions. Having unions like the UAW is one of the best expressions of our constitution. I hear they're getting ready to scrap that too once the North American Union gets here in 2010.
     
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  7. "Mr"

    We need the unions now more than ever, if our Idiot congress would give up their entitlement and pork barrel ways and the ceo's and corporate america would worry more about the nation and all workers as a whole instead of their own self interests we would all be more prosperous, also whomever Tabers Lee is look at the trade issues and lets make it a level playing field lets treat the imports the way they treat our exports it is almost impossible to send our products without a lot of tariffs, but most foriegn countries prop up their industry!
     
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