September 20, 2019

GM Workers On Strike

“The United Auto Workers union said Thursday that some progress has been made in lengthy talks to end a four-day old strike of about 48,000 workers at General Motors Co but added that many issues ‘remain unresolved’ and said talks could continue into the weekend.” Reuters

On Tuesday, “General Motors Co shifted health insurance costs for its striking workers to the United Auto Workers union as its members walked the picket line.” Reuters

See past issues

From the Left

The left supports the strike, arguing that the workers deserve a larger share of GM’s profits.

“Employees gave up a lot to keep the [auto] companies afloat [in 2009]. The union and its members agreed to let new hires earn less than half of the base salaries and allowed GM to hire temporary workers for even less pay and fewer benefits. But four years and an economic rebound later, employees are no longer okay with that… While temporary workers were earning as little as $15 an hour, GM CEO Mary Barra made nearly $22 million dollars last year. That’s 281 times the median GM worker…

“Trump told reporters outside the White House that ‘federal mediation is always possible’ between GM and the UAW. ‘Hopefully, they’ll be able to work out the GM strike quickly,’ he added. ‘We don’t want General Motors building plants outside of this country ... We’re very strong on that.’ For now, GM workers and executives are not taking him up on his mediation offer. Instead, employees are hoping the $50 million their strike is costing the company each day will accomplish what the president has not.”
Alexia Fernández Campbell, Vox

“Those of us who supported keeping GM alive a decade ago — and put our wallets where our mouths, pens and votes were — didn’t do so to make it easier for management to outsource jobs or hold down pay and benefits forever.Every Democratic candidate for president should be joining the UAW’s picket lines to drive that point home.”
E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post

“Organized labor is in the midst of a modest winning streak right now. Teachers in at least seven states have staged walkouts. Last year, Marriott workers went on strike, as did other hotel workers in Chicago and health care workers in California. Many of these job actions led to pay increases, as employers decided that they would rather increase wages than continue to deal with the chaos and costs of walkouts and strikes. A high-profile successful strike by one group of workers, in turn, encourages other workers to take the risk…

“The striking workers are asking for a pay increase and for the reopening of idled plants, among other things, and they are arguing that G.M. is now profitable enough (having earned $8.1 billion last year) to afford both. Given the wage stagnation that most workers have suffered in recent decades — and the larger import of the G.M. strike — I’m rooting for the workers to win a better deal.”
David Leonhardt, New York Times

“Whatever contract the UAW members and GM eventually reach, it is unlikely to solve the downward pressure on employment that plagues the auto industry. To address that, and to secure the future of good jobs generally, we need a labor law system that guarantees bargaining rights for all workers in the sector…

“In countries where a system of industrial or sectoral bargaining exists, workers and employers throughout the industry get together to agree on a fair deal for all. Under most sectoral bargaining systems, individual groups of workers and individual firms can still negotiate terms above the sectoral minimums and can still agree on more detailed work rules, But everyone has assurance thatbasic, fair standards will apply to all workers in the industry. As a result, companies are forced to compete based on their technological innovation, their excellent service, and their management skill — but they don’t get to compete by cutting wages or busting unions.”
Kate Andrias, Detroit Free Press

“GM just showed why we have to overhaul our health insurance system… the employer insurance system creates all kinds of problems, like ‘job lock’ (when you can’t leave a job you don’t like, say, to start a business, because you fear losing your coverage), the fact that the deductibility rewards people with higher incomes more or situations like the Hobby Lobby case, where employers get to make personal decisions for their employees based on the employer’s religious beliefs… ‘There are almost no economists I can think of who wouldn’t favor decoupling insurance from employment’…

“No matter what form it takes under the next Democratic president: We have to move away from the ridiculous system where the insurance you have, and whether you have insurance at all, is dependent on the benevolence of your boss.”
Paul Waldman, Washington Post

From the Right

The right is critical of the UAW, arguing that the strike is not in the workers’ best interests due to GM’s generous offer.

The right is critical of the UAW, arguing that the strike is not in the workers’ best interests due to GM’s generous offer.

“Essentially, the union believes that the concessions it made during the [2009] bankruptcy were temporary, and that the contract negotiations are a chance to reclaim lost ground. They’ve been buoyed somewhat by Trump, who has visited industrial sites around the country, urging manufacturers to keep jobs here and bring outsourced jobs back home. It’s a popular theme, but the question remains: keep them here at what cost, and under what model? The UAW is vying for the old, legacy model. I’m not sure that even Trump, on his best days, can justify a U.S. manufacturing economy that operates on those terms.”
Steven Malanga, City Journal

Last year, GM “paid workers $10,750 each in profit-sharing payments. The average hourly employee earns $90,000 annually and pays a mere 3% of health costscompared to an average of 30% in private industry… GM says it has offered the union new investment at eight current plants, 5,400 more jobs, annual wage increases over the next four years, an $8,000 ratification bonus per worker, sweeter profit-sharing formula and no change in health contributions. Laid-off workers will be able to transfer to GM’s other plants. UAW leaders have rejected this offer but are vague about what they want beyond a faster phase-out of a two-tier wage structure and fewer temporary workers.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Let’s be clear. The cause [of the strike] is not stinginess by GM. The automaker, facing uncertain trade policy and a slowing market, still committed itself to a massively expensive contract that would have strengthened the UAW’s future with the domestic auto industry…

“GM had agreed to invest $7 billion in 10 facilities in eight states, creating 5,400 new jobs. It would spare the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant from closure and build a new battery plant near the idled Lordstown plant in northern Ohio. Workers would get base wage increases and bonuses, including an $8,000 signing bonus when the contract is ratified. Health insurance benefits would go untouched, and the annual profit sharing formula would be enhanced.”
Editorial Board, Detroit News

“GM workers are already getting a great deal — a far better deal than other automobile workers around the nation. Were GM to offer more than the extremely generous new contract it has presented, a contract which includes generous new profit-sharing offers, it would betray its shareholders and risk its economic viability… of the big three U.S. car manufacturers (GM, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford), GM provided employees with the largest profit-sharing payouts between 2015-2018: an average of $45,500. GM also uses far fewer temporary, non-union contracted workers (7% of total workforce) than the average for U.S.-based foreign car manufacturers (20%)… GM should tell the UAW to take a hike.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

GM’s “offer appeared to be an unqualified win for the union. But this past weekend, the UAW’s leadership didn’t have pay raises on its mind — it had the public relations nightmare of a current and past president under federal investigation. An easy ‘win’ for General Motors would signal to a skeptical membership that union leadership isn’t fighting for them, and it would keep the corruption investigation in the spotlight…Progressive writers praised ‘the union that built the middle class’ and urged readers to ‘stand strong’ in solidarity with the UAW. Michigan’s governor visited striking workers and thanked them for ‘fighting for good jobs and fair wages.’ Unmentioned in this outpouring of support for the union was any criticism of its leaders’ bad behavior.”
Michael Saltsman, Detroit News

“The Justice Department has charged 10 defendants, including recently retired UAW chief Dennis Williams, with crimes ranging from embezzlement and money laundering to mail and wire fraud. UAW leaders allegedly spent more than $1 million in union money on fancy resorts, rounds of golf, clothing, expensive alcohol and cigars, and more. Perhaps worse in the eyes of some members, the UAW used nonunion labor to build a retirement home for its recent president… [Workers] should wonder whether union leaders are looking out for the membership’s interests or their own.’
Jarrett Skorup and James M. Hohman, Wall Street Journal

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