Uaw Members Fault Union Leaders for Concessions

by : Anthony Fontanelle

The United Auto Workers' (UAW) members faulted union leaders for being too eager to agree to concessions. Automakers, on the other hand, said that they need to restore profits.

Angelo Bruno, 39, a painter at Ford Motor Co.'s Michigan Truck Plant, said they will try to swallow their ire and accept a deal that likely will bring more cuts. "It was a great ride," Bruno said. "But now globalization is killing us. We've got no choice."

Many automotive workers are striving to work balance despite the growing mistrust building inside. They have to work hard to rival more efficient foreign rivals. They have to consider the quality of their auto parts like as well as the quality of their work despite their depressing working conditions.

Bruno believed that the vote held by his local UAW authorizing Ford to enforce major work rule changes at the plant was 'rigged.' Changes include shifting to a 10-hour-a-day, four-day work week. Workers said turnout was deliberately kept low because they had to scramble through a snowstorm to vote at the local union hall. Traditionally, votes have been held inside the plant, Bruno said.

In spite of the gloomy plight, Bruno said he is willing to approve a national contract this fall that analysts predict could cut his pay, make him dig deeper to pay for his health care, and possibly thin his pension. "It's a betrayal," Bruno said. "I don't think anyone's being honest with us. I just hope I can stomach it." But he admits times have changed for him and even a lower-paying Ford job is probably better than anything else he could get. "I'm 55 years old," he said. "The economy would eat me up."

Top UAW officials declined to give further details on the upcoming contract talks however automakers have signaled their goal to pursue terms that are aimed at decreasing their labor and 'legacy costs' that include pension, health care and retiree benefits.

Al Benchich, the president of UAW Local 909, said that many local union officials are trying to "balance on a tight rope." Benchich represents workers at General Motors Corp.'s powertrain plant in Warren. "Everyone knows the situation the auto industry finds itself in," he said. "We are trying to determine a strategy based in reality."

"Disillusionment among the rank-and-file runs deep partly because the union has been so effective at protecting its workers," said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Shaiken has close ties to the UAW and automakers.

"They've dodged a lot of bullets, but the bullets are whizzing by a lot closer now," Shaiken said. "Despite the decades-long retrenching of the Big Three, there has never been this scale of layoffs. The UAW has always achieved some hard-fought gains."

The UAW has agreed to close some facilities and introduce more money-saving measures into factories. However, the union also won pay gains and has preserved medical benefits as well as job protections like the continuance of compensation to laid off workers.

Shaiken abhorred the idea that UAW leaders have sold out the rank-and-file. "They are not going to sacrifice the gains it took 60 years for them to build," he said. "They are very realistic about how tough times are right now. You've got constructive discussions between both sides. Both sides want to see healthier companies."