Wednesday, April 29, 2009

UAW a Winner In the Bailout?

UAW The New York Times has an article examining whether the possible government bailouts of the U.S. automakers will strengthen the UAW.  Given all of the cuts that UAW workers are facing, the question itself seems odd at first glance.  However, the article makes the case for a UAW upswing:

In the devastating slump that has forced two of Detroit’s automakers to the brink of bankruptcy, the United Automobile Workers union stands to become one of the industry’s few winners.

According to restructuring plans proposed this week, the union will have more than half the stock in Chrysler and a third of General Motors, meaning it will have tremendous influence, with the government, in determining the future of the companies. The United Automobile Workers union said Wednesday that its members ratified a cost-cutting deal with Chrysler by a 4-to-1 margin. . . .

The U.A.W. members at both automakers stand to lose some of their pay and benefits, but the cuts are not as deep as those faced by airline and steel workers when their companies went bankrupt. Under proposed deals devised by the Treasury Department, U.A.W. pensions and retiree health care benefits would largely be protected.

The U.A.W. has derived its leverage in part from the support of a Democratic president and Congress. But it also results from a long-term strategy to build support in Washington that stretches back more than 60 years. . . .

Mr. Gettelfinger, the current president, has also been an effective, steel-nerved leader, and has managed to maintain the union’s importance in recent negotiations, even though the U.A.W. has lost nearly 200,000 members since he took office in 2003. Mr. Gettelfinger’s influence stems in part from the fact that the U.A.W. represents nearly all the auto workers at the Detroit companies. (Workers at a few plants are represented by the I.U.E.) By contrast, airline workers are represented by multiple unions.

The point about the UAW possessing additional power because it's the 800 pound gorilla for workers in the auto industry is an important one.  However, I'm not sure that I'd call the UAW (or anyone save the foreign automakers) a "winner" in this situation.  It may be true that the union comes through in OK shape, but it's going to lose a lot of members and those members are going to lose a lot of money and benefits.  Any way you slice it, that's still not a good thing.

-JH

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