An Anti-Union Guy Says: Don’t Blame the UAW

I’ll start by making it crystal clear: I don’t like unions. Most unions, in my humble opinion, penalize the best workers and deliver unjustified compensation to the worst. As a guy who loves to negotiate on my own, I’d only join a union as a last-resort.

That being said, America’s infatuation with demonizing the United Auto Workers is DEAD WRONG. Almost everything you’ve heard or believe about the UAW is not accurate, because the UAW is different from most unions.

Myth number one is the UAW, like all unions, exists only because it makes the leaders rich off of union dues. Guess what? Ron Gettelfinger, the President of the UAW, made $156,000 in 2007 and just under $160,000 in 2008. It might sound like a lot of money, but consider that this most powerful union boss in the world makes less than almost any regional union chief. For instance, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32B-32J chapter in New York was paying its president $530,000 each year.

Even better, a person with no experience and no education can get a base of $80,000 if he is lucky enough to get a Longshoreman’s union entry-level job.

In comparison, Rick Wagoner, former President of GM, had a 2008 salary of $2.2 million. Bob Lutz, GM’s former high-profile VP, saw $1.56 million in 2008. Gettelfinger, the demonized head of this so-called greedy union in actuality makes less money than the average GM low-level department director.

Myth number two is that the UAW has no interest in the survivability of the auto companies and has never been interested in anything other than better pay and benefits. This is totally untrue. Indeed, in 1949, UAW President Walter Reuther oversaw the publication of a position paper called “A Small Car Named Desire”, which urged The Big Three to start producing smaller, more fuel efficient cars, because that is exactly what the UAW perceived the American public would want. The Big Three’s top brass told Reuther to stick to negotiating contracts, rather than tell them how to run their businesses.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the UAW was regulated by the Big Three to being concerned only about protecting members’ benefits. By the late 1970s, the UAW started to see the foreign competition as a legitimate threat to the US auto industry, even when Big Three SWAT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analyses focused solely on one another in each segment.

The UAW urged foreign automakers to build their cars here in the USA. Unfortunately for them, right-to-work states did better jobs of lobbying, so most foreign-owned shops became non-union.

Interestingly, though, the Japanese-owned factories seemed to offer fair compensation for work. So what does that say about the Big Three? To me it says they were…and still are greedy, shortsighted, too inbred, and insulated to see that it was their own damn fault, not the UAW’s, for the domestic auto industry’s collapse.

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4 Responses to An Anti-Union Guy Says: Don’t Blame the UAW

  1. David Zarkin says:

    Midwest Mopars in the Park this weekend in Minnesota and I plan to attend. This looks like the big Chrysler Dodge event of the season in Minnesota. Let me know if you want any Plum Crazy Barecuda photos? I am glad you are current on the Big 3 Perspective because my head is stuck in 1967. dave

  2. Dean Stevenson says:

    The part I don’t like about the UAW was the ridiculous union-oriented issues like “if the car company doesn’t have work for you, you stay in a ready-to-work pool and still get paid.” I’ll admit my ignorance of the finer details, but it is those type circumstances that helped demonize unions wasn’t it? Who can justify that economically?

    While you point out that the President of the UAW makes a reasonable salary, isn’t the real issue concerning compensation that many of the UAW workers were basically overpaid for the work they did? I’d love to hear some hard facts.

  3. Dean,
    You bring up a very good issue. Let’s start with the overpaid issue.

    In 2006 the average UAW worker made $27 per hour. In Toyota’s Kentucky plant, which is where my own personal Avalon was made (and according to Toyota is a fair representation of all its American operations), the average salary (non-union) was $30 per hour. While it is true the UAW’s health insurance required no contribution from employees, Toyota employees contributed just $700 per year.

    Now, in terms of the ready-to-work pool, I agree that this type of arrangement is foolish. At this point we have to look at which party is to blame. The UAW’s reason was to prevent massive layoffs/plant closures during the time that GM was ultra-profitable, but closing plants to maximize stock price. The fact that GM and Ford agreed to a deal of that nature shows the short-sightedness, because they fundamentally believed that while there would be some cyclical retraction, it would always be short-term. Their lack of vision prevented executives from seeing that a)medium-to-long term contraction was even possible and b)that a ready-to-work-pool agreement could be a serious anchor in trimming costs to remain competitive.

  4. TaterSalad says:

    Wrong on the above. Gettlefinger made $160k for his GM pension. The International Union reps also get another pension paid for by the Union dues collected. Add that into your figures and these rip-off artists are getting fat off of our dues!

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