The UAW has thrown down the gauntlet by going ahead and making concessions
The United Automobile Workers union said Wednesday that it would make major concessions in its contracts with the three Detroit auto companies to help them lobby Congress for $34 billion in federal aid.
The surprising move by the U.A.W. could be a critical factor in the automakers’ bid not only to get government assistance, but also to become competitive with the cost structure of nonunion plants operated by foreign automakers in the United States.
At a news conference in Detroit, the U.A.W.’s president, Ron Gettelfinger, said that his members were willing to sacrifice job security provisions and financing for retiree health care to keep the two most troubled car companies of the Big Three, General Motors and Chrysler, out of bankruptcy.
Democratic Congressional leaders have said that they want to help the automakers and that they were heartened by the gesture of contrition that the executives made by driving to Washington — rather than flying on corporate jets, as they did two weeks ago — and by the more comprehensive plans submitted by the companies.
But the political climate on Capitol Hill is still doubtful for the automakers, and only seemed to worsen on Wednesday with a new CNN poll showing a majority of Americans opposing a taxpayer rescue.
I'd like to believe that the root of this opposition is rage at the spectacle of auto executives taking private jets to beg for taxpayer money from Congress. But I'm not convinced, and the re-election of Saxby Chambliss in Georgia underscores the fact that American working people are still more willing to become soldiers in a resentment war against other working people than against the people who are implementing policies that are creating this relentless chase to the bottom.
"Why should they get good pay and benefits when I don't?"
That's the line used when protesting the benefits packages that unions have gained over the years for automotive and state workers. Instead of wanting to gain these benefits for themselves, American workers who have seen their own benefits cut -- who have been forced into HMOs and seen their premiums skyrocket anyway, who have seen their employers eliminate 401(k) matches and defined benefit pensions, who have seen salary freezes -- seem to prefer having other workers join them in this march towards financial oblivion than to lobby to have their own benefits restored.
While working Americans were having the rug pulled out from under them over the last eight years, there was little rage directed at management and Wall Street fatcats getting six-figure bonuses every December -- the guys who developed and sold these derivatives based on bogus mortgages. There's STILL more rage directed at the blue collar worker who simply wanted the "American Dream of Homeownership" and didn't read the fine print, or even the person who was baited-and-switched into a subprime loan at closing rather than walk away, than there is towards the decision-makers who got us into this.
I'm not sure why we as a country want to drag others at our economic level down with us if we are among those on the slide to the bottom, rather than joining together to fight to sustain our standard of living. Perhaps we just feel so hopeless that it's easier to just say misery loves company and accept it, focusing resentment on those who have even less.
Yesterday I was listening to Bloomberg radio in the car on the way home, and the anchors were talking to someone who was discussing the cutbacks that Wall Street executives who were going to see their bonuses cut this year were going to have to make -- not renewing their country club memberships, sacrificing a vacation, it's really going to hurt the Hamptons.
My heart bleeds.
Funny how THEY aren't having to feel that a job with a cut bonus is better than no job and no bonus. And they say auto workers feel entitled.
But now the UAW has made its concessions on its own terms -- a good-faith effort to bow to economic reality. Let's see if this changes public opinion. Somehow I think not.
Labels: automobile industry, economic death watch