Dec 15, 2008
UAW leaders called local union presidents to a surprise “emergency” meeting on December 3. President Ron Gettelfinger pushed local leaders to vote immediately to approve three actions Gettelfinger had discussed with the auto companies: one, suspend the Jobs Bank program for laid-off workers; two, postpone corporate payments into the retirees’ VEBA health care fund; and three, approve the re-opening of the 2007 contracts for “modifications.”
“Suspending” the Jobs Bank means that the companies can lay off masses of workers, taking no responsibility for the disaster they are creating.
Postponing the VEBA payments means the beginning of the end for retirees’ health care. When the VEBA kicks in just over a year from now, there won’t be money in the funds. GM has already skipped putting in one payment it owed. And the money originally transferred into the fund has already shrunk since the companies were allowed to contribute it in stock and bonds instead of in cash.
Finally, agreeing to reopen the contract means the end of decent wages in auto. In the 2007 GM, Ford and Chrysler contracts, the union leadership had already pushed through a “two tier” wage concession – with the new-hire wages set at $14 – only half the regular rate. Health-care and pension benefits for new hires were either eliminated or cut to the bone.
It was obvious when two-tier was passed, the companies would come back to push lower wages and benefits on every worker. And now – with the help of the union leadership – they are coming to cut every one’s wages and benefits.
In a very rare national news conference on December 12, President Gettelfinger revealed that UAW leaders had made a deal with Republican Senator Corker of Tennessee. Gettelfinger said, “The tentative agreement with Senator Corker also provided that any restructuring plan approved by the auto czar would have to insure that the wages and benefits paid to active employees at the domestic automakers would be competitive with the compensation paid by foreign transplants, after taking into consideration the transition to newer employees earning lower wages and benefits.”
In fact – agreeing to compete with other workers to cut wages is nothing but a race to the bottom. As soon as the Big 3 got two-tier wages for new hires in 2007, Honda implemented the same much lower hire-in rate at its new plant in Greensburg, Indiana. If GM, Ford, and Chrysler workers agree to lower wages for everyone, Honda and Toyota will push through the same thing.
The aim of workers must be to raise everyone’s wages – not to fight each other over who will work for nothing.