The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Two-Tier:
A Ball and Chain

Oct 11, 2010

When two-tier wage rates and benefits were first snuck into union contracts – as in auto contracts with Visteon and Delphi in 2003, and Ford, GM, and Chrysler in 2007 – the lower rates applied only to “new hires”, workers not yet in the plants.

But two-tier is now coming home to roost, threatening every worker – as recent events at GM’s Lake Orion, Michigan plant so clearly show.

In November of 2009, Lake Orion workers were laid off while their plant was retooled to build a new GM model. All the workers except temps were either making the regular wage of $28 an hour or progressing toward it. Temps were told they would be made permanent when the plant reopened.

On October 3, 2010, the local union officers called a meeting, informing workers that only 60% of them could come back at the same pay as when they were laid off. The other 40% would have to work for half pay if they came back – the two-tier!

The depth of the betrayal was highlighted by UAW officials who informed workers they could not vote on this deal because – they had already voted for it, without knowing it! (See box.)

Some workers began to organize for a picket at UAW headquarters in Detroit, for Saturday October 16. They say it is time for every UAW worker to express their outrage.

They are right, and they are not alone. American Axle workers fought a determined strike in 2008 for 11 weeks, but they were blindsided by a last-minute betrayal by high union officials who had pretended to oppose the deal.

Chrysler’s New Process Gear plant repeatedly voted down the two-tier. The Delphi spinoff plants voted against two-tier only to have it imposed on them by another UAW trick: rolling their vote into a larger GM-wide vote.

In 2009, only the force of a government order – accept a widening of two-tier or else no bailout for Chrysler and GM – created conditions for top UAW officials to push through a vote accepting it, especially since those officials controlled the count.

Ford workers threw a monkey wrench into the demands for further concessions. They organized nationally to vote “No”. And – this is important – they monitored the votes from every local, reporting them independently. The International had no choice but to report a final national vote that tallied with the workers’ own count!

Last month workers at GM’s Indianapolis Metal Fab imposed their control on a vote. When the UAW brass refused to accept the workers’ vote against everyone going into the second tier wages, the brass set up a mail-in vote without the consent of the Local. Four hundred ten workers videotaped their NO ballots and the mailing. The brass had to report the true vote: 457 NO, 96 yes.

Workers at Chrysler’s Warren, Michigan Truck Assembly Plant are now publicly denouncing two-tier. A few workers started a petition demanding the contract be reopened NOW and returned to a standard wage progression for every worker.

At Truck, temp workers were “rolled over” to permanent, but only if they took a two-tier wage cut. Now $28 workers and $15 workers work side by side doing the same work as always – but divided. And neither side likes it! Petition organizers say they have 1000 signatures at two plants so far.

Of course, these refusals are only beginnings. But some workers are trying to break the ball and chain of two-tier and other concessions. And this can grow into a wider movement, not only among auto workers, but all workers.