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May 30, 2005

Taking One For The Team

Business Week steps forward with the obligatory article on how United Auto Worker intransigence is worsening Detroit's woes. But midway through the piece, a passage flashes by that explains the difference between yesteryear's take-one-for-the-team unions and today's seemingly immovable objects. The difference? At one point, there was, in fact, a team:

When Chrysler wrung mid-contract cutbacks from the UAW in 1981, the company was strapped. Chrysler (DCX ) canceled its dividend, top execs took a 10% pay cut, and then-Chairman Lee A. Iacocca worked for a dollar that year. Today, both GM and Ford still pay a dividend, and GM CEO G. Richard Wagoner Jr. got a $2.5 million bonus for 2004 -- on top of his $2.2 million in salary. Both companies also have huge cash hoards -- $20 billion at GM and $23 billion at Ford. Until the companies are close to bankruptcy, union leaders see no reason to give up benefits.

What Wagoner did to deserve that bonus is far beyond my limited comprehension (helped his brand die?), but the idea that workers no longer see the top rungs sacrificing even as concessions are demanded of them is, indeed, a powerful one for explaining why so few unions seem interested in pitching in during periods of hardship. After all, it's pretty hard to explain to your union why you agreed to chip away at their health care coverage while the shareholders were paid a dividend and the executives got a bonus and the company's afloat in cash (if not profits).

If GM, Ford and their kind want to survive, they will need to restructure radically -- no one doubts that. But if they decide their only really pressing priority is ripping health care from their retirees, they're going to quickly find that the unions are deeply unimpressed with the survival plan. And even if they were able to force it onto the workers, it wouldn't save the companies' anyway. This isn't about retirees, it's about bad cars plus worse management, and leadership like this is certainly proving the latter part of that equation.

--Ezra

May 30, 2005 in Big Business, Labor | Permalink

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Comments

Jeebus, Ezra, what are you? Some kind of communist? Don't you know that executives are supposed to earn like 800 times what their workers make, and anything they do is fine and dandy as long as it makes the stockholders happy? Sheesh, next thing you know you'll be telling me you voted for that librul Kerry and you support a one-payer healthcare system like the wife of the Clenis does.

< /snark>

Posted by: Michael | May 30, 2005 10:50:42 AM

Exactly Ezra, GM CEO Wagner's desire for the tax payer to help GM's retirement obligations hardly justifies his bonus. Wagner wants a single payer health care system and that alone should be reason enough to cancel his bonus and a call for his termination.

Posted by: Ron Greiner | May 30, 2005 11:04:42 AM

Ron, Mr. HSAs are on the way to save the day, Greiner should realize that on the this blog board saying that President Bush supports something is not likely to get you very far. (He hasn't said it here, but he always cites Bush on the Health Care Blog.) In fact, if GM can get us to a single-payer healthcare system, it would do some good. Then we could bargain over wages and pensions more effectively without uncertain healthcare costs clouding the picture.

Posted by: Abby | May 30, 2005 1:47:07 PM

Abby, that's why they have elections. In another four years even Michigan will be red, sorry.

Posted by: Ron Greiner | May 30, 2005 4:47:48 PM

Really good point Ezra.

Posted by: fiat lux | May 30, 2005 7:04:18 PM

Think if management was sent a free copy of "Animal Farm" it would be over their collective heads (don't answer that..prize crew of enlightened souls) ?

Posted by: opit | May 30, 2005 10:12:27 PM

At this point the workers have to ask themselves that if the company is going down anyway, and plans to dump the pension they've already paid into for 30 years anyway what is there to lose? why give concessions? Once folks see the handwriting they no longer feel the need to cooperate.

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