UAW Killed the Golden Goose

The general consensus is that America’s auto manufacturers gave unions an open-ended check and when they cashed it, they cashed out the futures of thousands of workers when their plants began massive layoffs.

The result is the UAW got a black eye from its members and from thousands of downstream workers who were impacted by the union’s role in the demise of the nation’s auto manufacturers.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., this week, the nation will get a glimpse of the UAW’s clout when workers at the three-year-old Volkswagen plant with 1,500 workers vote on whether they want union representation.

The situation is getting ugly, but if the perception of one VW worker as quoted by The Wall Street Journal is any indication, the UAW is taking a bad PR hit.

“For a time, Donna Allmon, a quality inspector on the assembly line, was open to the idea of a union, and looked positively on the UAW’s practice of giving preferences based on a workers’ seniority. But then she took into account the UAW’s history of confrontations with the Detroit auto makers, and its role in the long decline that culminated in the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler.”

“Anything they have been involved with has had problems,” she said. “We are a great company. I just don’t feel we need this.”

According to Automotive News, “The political stakes are high. Well-funded political groups have descended on Chattanooga over the past week with election-year vigor, airing ads on drive-time radio and posting billboards that blame the UAW for Detroit’s blight. GOP politicians in Tennessee are warning that unionization will hurt the state’s economy.

“A weak union presence has played a major role in pulling the U.S. auto industry’s center of gravity toward Southern states such as Tennessee, which had 48,500 automotive jobs in 2012, according to a Brookings Institution report.”

Sean McAlinden, chief economist at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., told The Journal that a loss would be terrible for the UAW. “They need new members. If they can’t organize an international automaker, the UAW isn’t going to have much bargaining power in the industry.”

Also at stake, according to The Journal, is the future of the auto industry in the South. “In the past two decades, foreign automakers have built nearly 20 auto-assembly plants in Southern states, drawn in part by their ‘right to work’ laws against unions.

“These ‘transplant’ factories now produce almost half of all the cars and light trucks made in the U.S. and thrive on cost advantages they get from employing non-union labor.”

The UAW has not fared well in other union auto elections in the South, with a parts plant in Alabama recently rejecting the UAW. The last vote at an auto-assembly plant was in 2001, when workers at a Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., rejected the UAW by a 2-to-1 margin, The Journal noted.

After disappointing earnings were released last week, GM was able to hang onto the No. 2 spot for passenger vehicles sold in 2013, staying just ahead of fast-growing VW, but lagging behind No. 1 Toyota. This adds another dimension to the UAW fight with VW.

And of course, Chrysler sold itself to Fiat, but had to raise $3 billion in bonds and secure $2 billion in new loans to pay off money still owed to a labor-union trust.

I am not gloating about the hit taken by union members. They deserve to be well-paid, but they have been taken for a ride by unions like the UAW that are more interested in power, political clout and the compensation of its leaders than the welfare of their workers.

A perfect example of a union out of control is seen in Detroit (no surprise) where Forbes reported last year that while facing bankruptcy, the city was “still paying for a ‘horseshoer’ (or farrier) on the Detroit Water & Sewer Department (DWSD) payroll. This individual costs some $56,000 in pay and benefits, despite the city not having any horses to shoe in his department.”

The irony of course is that while the DWSD works with old-fashioned horsepower, the UAW has something to do with new horsepower. But what they have in common is to press their agenda without considering the ramifications of their actions.

No matter the outcome of the union election this week in Chattanooga, all we can hope for is a clean, fair election, without intimidation or fraud. Whichever side wins, the one thing that unites us is our given right for free elections and for workers to determine their own future.

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