By Michael Westfall
the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and our middle class, who have always been the engine of our nation
and the envy of the free world, are being methodically eliminated. Corporations, powerful unions and governmental forces are
betraying and sacrificing middle class workers on the alter of corporate restructuring. They are viewing middle class retiree’s
as disposable legacy costs. While these issues are far from being limited to the auto industry, this paper discusses America’s
domestic auto industry relative to our retirees, our middle class workers and our manufacturing communities.
All three are tightly linked together.
America has seen
the tremendous benefits that can occur for corporations, communities and workers alike when workers come together as a united
voice. That said, there are terribly confused top union officials today that have been traveling down the wrong road and inflicting
irreparable damage to workers and retirees. Their misguided leadership is profoundly changing the definition of the union.
now officially getting under way to secure a new four-year auto pact replacing the one expiring in September with General
Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The domestic auto giants have intensified their ruthless
drive to further downsize the auto industry by shutting plants, slicing wages, cutting benefits, speeding up the assembly
lines and moving production to low-wage regions. What does this mean for America?
the American auto industry has been America’s foremost industry with one in seven American jobs being auto related.
The United Auto Workers once had a membership north of 1,500,000. Today’s group of UAW officials, led by UAW President
Ron Gettelfinger, have ridden the ship down to the point where union membership is now dropping south of 500,000 and shifting
in the wind like a crushed ship in a typhoon. Just a few short years ago in the 1980’s places like Flint had 80,000
autoworkers, now Flint has 15,000 autoworkers. Places like Lansing had 23,000 autoworkers, now Lansing has fewer than 6,000
UAW members have
disappeared at such a rate that union officials have branched out their organizing to other lesser-paid employment arenas
in order to keep their vast union dues flowing in. Should this pace continue, the once proud acronym
UAW will need to be changed to UWP, United Working Poor,which would be a more fitting acronym for the definition
of the direction that these new union officials represent.
For the last 20
years the performance of top UAW officials has been much like that of Herman Melville’s crazed Captain Ahab in his elusive
search to conquer Moby Dick. The hard to pin down whale sidetracked the demented and confused Ahab from his course, and then
led him to his demise.
What is happening
within the UAW leadership, the corporate boardrooms and the government offices to have allowed the auto industry, which was
America’s most prized manufacturing asset, to evaporate into the hands of foreigners?
The hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs that have been allowed to “quietly” disappear
were jobs that our children, community’s and our nation needed going forward into this new millennium.
In the Presidential
debates leading to the Whitehouse, where are the candidates on either side of the political isle who will discuss and champion
the plight of America’s middle class workers and the retirees who support our system and pay the bills?
Retirees and workers have given
their accumulated experience, knowledge, wisdom and skills to advance these American based multi-national companies and build
the American dream for us all. They have worked tirelessly
to improve the quality of the products they produce and have consistently improved their efficiency. They have been a hard
working and committed workforce that have been rewarded with condemnation, substandard unfair two-tiered wage configurations,
sliced protective work rules and union officials who have consciously refused to keep pension buying power of older retirees
in line with inflation increases. UAW retirees have recently seen UAW top officials use questionable legal means to steal
the promised retirement health care benefits that were legally owned by the retirees.
America’s workers are being forced to compete head to head with little or no protection against exploited foreign
workers who are paid disgracefully low pay and treated with deplorable working conditions. Shouldn’t America stand for
more then this?
Consider the corporate
tax breaks that our workers and communities have given these companies. Why weren’t
these weak officials minding the store and developing strategies years ago to counter these issues facing working America?
Where are they now?
and benefits have always been the pattern that other American workers across the nation used to gauge and upgrade their wages
and benefits. This brought up the standard of living for our entire nation. The drastic downward domino effect in automotive
worker cuts will be used as examples and directly and negatively impact millions of American middle class workers from border
top U.A.W. officials have not been up to the task of protecting the standard of living that workers and union leaders before
Mr. Gettelfinger spent seventy years achieving. The best efforts that top UAW officials have been able to muster up are to
collectively harmonize their melodious voices and march in lockstep with the corporation’s executive choir for deeper
and more profound American worker and retiree sacrifices.
have been merrily whistling all of the way to their banks with their multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses made at the
expense of these needy retirees and threatened disposable workers.
Since all of the
worker and retiree pain thus far has gone to union members and their families, it begs the bona fide questions, who are these
union officials really representing, and to whom do the enormous benefits really go? It makes one ponder, if these top union
officials run the UAW like a company union and the losers are the workers, then shouldn’t it be the corporations and
executives who benefit that pay the union dues rather then the workers?
The prevalent problem with America’s auto industry has been corporate management, who has
always put short-term profits ahead of the long term good of the company, and because of this their foreign competitors have
important. As Japan’s Toyota was stealing the automotive market from the U.S. automakers, the Japanese developed a public
relations strategy to produce a certain number of Toyotas here. This was in order to offset American criticism of the American
jobs that their workers were displacing...it worked. They easily put it over our blind governmental leaders, our greedy corporate
executives and our sleeping labor officials. Now in America, as domestic plants have been shuttered, Toyota has built 10 new
state of the art factories. An International Tribune business article written in June 2005 by Micheline Maynard of The New
York Times stated that Toyota has helped create an incredible 386,000 new American jobs between their assembly plants, supplier
plants, California headquarters, engineering & design departments, dealerships and advertisers.
Does Ford and
General Motors really think these Toyota affiliated workers are going to buy Fords and Chevy’s? They literally stole
America’s auto industry right out from under our very noses. It is a national disgrace and clearly shows how dangerously
foolish our government leaders, corporate leaders and union officials really are.
While UAW officials
may be the conductors hiding in the warm powerful front engine on this American manufacturing concession train heading for
disaster, and corporate executives are in the safety of their gilded luxury passenger cars in the middle of this train clicking
down the raggedy tracks, neither of these two groups are in the noisy, sparse, cold and smelly concession caboose at the end.
That dangerous and dreadful car is reserved exclusively for the sacrificial middle class retirees and blue-collar workers.
officials have gifted themselves and steadfastly protected their personal lavish salaries, pension packages and vast perks
at their gold plated fiefdom at Solidarity House. When they concession away worker and retiree benefits it doesn’t affect
them personally. The pain is for their middle class workers and retirees that they represent and who pay the bills. See…
"Salaries UAW Constitution"...
Those with an
agenda to dehumanize America’s retirees, so they can target and eliminate them as an expenditure, use the derogatory
term legacy cost to classify retirees. Instead of sacrificing workers and retirees, and coddling spoiled auto executives, why
haven’t UAW officials addressed greedy and incompetent management with their perks and plunder? The dissimilarity between
the excessive and obscene executive payouts and their outrageous and extreme disregard for a living wage for working men and
women could not be sharper.
A couple of recent
examples are, as GM was slicing another 30,000 auto worker jobs, Rick Wagoner, GM CEO, was receiving restricted stock valued
at almost $3 million plus options valued at almost $1.5 million. Wagoner was only one of a long line of GM executives to get
million dollar compensations. Another example was in 2006 as Chrysler announced their plans to slash 13,000 American jobs,
Tom LaSorda, Chrysler CEO, accepted $3.2 million in compensation.
health care benefits were earned and promised to UAW retirees. In 2005 Mr. Gettelfinger decided that the time had arrived to declare open
season on his struggling retirees
and reduce their critical healthcare protections. The only legal
way these top union officials could negotiate away retirees health care benefits was with fancy footwork from their creative
union attorney staff and a court order. On Black October 18, 2005, these top UAW officials, in order to have the legal right
to make reprehensible health care concessions “stick” for their already hard-pressed UAW retirees, requested that
a federal judge approve the right for them to bargain and reduce the health care benefits for their retired members and their
spouses. Anyone would be na´ve indeed to believe that this deplorable move was anything but a down payment on future retiree
This attack on
pensions has shocking repercussions for today’s active workers who will be future retirees. They have seen first hand
that their UAW officials will not protect them when they are retired. These workers will find that once retired, it
is impossible to find part time employment rich enough to cover promised lost benefits. Active members deserve better then
becoming America’s working poor and fighting off the wolves at their door in their retirement years.
How can any retiree
and their spouse, present or future, ever hope to afford to live in dignity when Mr. Gettelfinger’s UAW
officials unfairly betray their union promise and not only fail to negotiate basic pension increases over the years on the
pensions of older retirees to keep up with rising inflation, but also go to court once you retire to obtain the legal right
to concession away the little income that you do get?
These factories are not healthy places to work. In many manufacturing plants the workers life expectancy
is much less then the normal life expectancy because of the exposure to smoke, fumes, carcinogens and all the other multiple
workplace chemicals and hazards. Some plants have tremendous long-term health problems including cancer that come from worker
exposure. These diseases many times don’t surface for many years until workers retire.
Past UAW leaders negotiated hard won retirements and health care benefits to protect workers. Mr. Gettelfinger’s
top UAW officials have also forgotten that retires need food to eat, gas to run their cars and heat to keep warm in the winter. Most workers want to retire someday. They don’t want to be on their knees in retirement or be treated like a piece of garbage. This betrays the
very premise of what these top UAW officials were elected to do.
group should be held accountable for cooperating with corporate executives and for divorcing themselves from UAW retirees.
Delphi was spun
off from General Motors in 1999 and is GM’s largest parts supplier. UAW officials should never have allowed the companies
to split off the parts plants into Delphi. It was their responsibility to protect these workers. Trusting UAW Delphi members
were sold a bill of goods and have been threatened, disrespected, hammered with agonizing concessions and left to swing in
the wind. These parts workers were GM workers from the beginning of the automobile industry. To allow the reorganization of
them so the companies could target and pilfer from them was morally wrong.
Delphi’s demands of wage cuts, benefit reductions, work standards elimination, pension cut demands
and other severe demands have been appalling. Delphi’s threats of moving work to foreign lands where countries allow
worker exploitation, as in Delphi’s Shanghai plant, are a genuine threat. In Delphi’s Shanghai facility they have
no pensions, holiday pay or benefit costs and can get away with paying workers around $1.50 per hour. How many Americans could
support their families on $1.50 per hour with no benefits? This is ethically repugnant. It is occurring as Delphi executives
take home incredible salaries and million dollar bumper bonuses.
should have realized by now that their worker concessions have never created one single job. They have only resulted in the
transfer of jobs between competing workers and nations, who are all vying to reduce prices for the work by slashing the standard
of living of the working class workers to the lowest common denominator.
multi-nationals have a long history of transferring production to foreign workers paid shamefully low wages and are used as
unfair competitive examples against Americans who make a living wage. If American workers eliminated every benefit and 90%
of their wages, they still could not compete with some of these exploited foreign workers. When our middle class jobs are
all gone, who is going to support our school systems, support America’s infrastructure or frequent and purchase products
from the small business owners in our communities? Who will pay the taxes that run our great nation? Who will be able to afford
to buy the automobiles from the companies that discharged our workers? What we are talking about here are human rights issues,
and the very survival of our economy and culture, as we know it.
On the tentative
Delphi contractual settlement, any company, of course, would want fast ratification on a worker self-execution agreement.
Quick ratification doesn’t give workers a fair chance to really absorb the weight of the concessions. Delphi workers
had better be suspicious of all the small print before they ratify and make positively sure that this agreement is not a financial
suicide contractual agreement that they have agreed to that condemns their families to a lifetime of being America’s
How much could
each of these workers personally lose? Do the math. An $8-$10 per hour wage cut or buy down for a 2080-hour work year over
30 years of hard labor amounts to an incredible $499,200 - $624,000 loss for each worker and their family plus other additional
substantial losses due to benefits tied to their wages.
agreement apparently has an early out retirement option for threatened workers. What kinds of shocking surprises do these
UAW officials have lined up for pensions and retirees going forward in the larger negotiations next month?
Is there an even
bigger and more painful story for these workers after the Delphi contract? The press says there is already an investment banker
group waiting on the sidelines to take over Delphi after the contract settlement. See Cerberus piece in this paper. This is
not the end of the pain; it is merely the beginning and perhaps the time to draw a line in the sand.
The painful retiree
health care concessions that top UAW officials pursued for retirees in 2005 were quietly designed as a much further reaching
program then UAW members were initially led to believe. There is a process to totally alter the
defined benefits program and change it to a profoundly different defined contribution program. This process
completely overhauls and reallocates the supervision of the healthcare benefits to a new Voluntary Employee Benefits Association
program (VEBA). Under such an arrangement, rather then cover all of the health care costs of workers and retiree’s;
union officials negotiate a cap on the company’s healthcare responsibilities.
Under VEBA the
corporations are able to divest of these programs. Then union officials can take administrative charge of managing these trusts
containing billions of dollars of assets earmarked for employee health care benefits. These union officials putting a cap
on worker and retiree health care is a horrific sleeper concession. Healthcare costs are not going down, they are rising faster
then inflation. Any costs above the negotiated caps will come painfully from retirees, workers and their spouses.
Given the recent
actions against retirees and their health care by union officials and with the health care monies being administered and cared
for by the union, it leaves workers and retirees in a precarious and vulnerable position when the money begins to dry up should
these union officials decide to cut benefits to match the insufficient benefit caps that they knowingly negotiated.
certainly always had pipe dreams of gullible union officials who would negotiate an inadequate cap on health care and allow
them to legally walk away from their full healthcare responsibilities. Never before would past UAW administrations ever consider
do not protect health care benefits. Union officials are nothing more then successful union politicians; they are not health
There are commonly
known questionable examples of allowing union officials to administer and control workers’ money.
Las Vegas Now piece discussed how Jimmy Hoffa appointed mob-connected
businessman Allen Dorfman to administer the Teamsters pension fund.
The article explains
how millions of dollars of Teamsters union members’ money became mob connected and was used to expand casinos, including
the Desert Inn and the Stardust. It talks of how Teamster pension money was used to fund the building of Caesars Palace, Circus
Circus and several other resorts. The piece said Hoffa was up to his neck in Mafia conspiracies and that all of the Teamster
loans came with unwritten strings. The article stated that when Hoffa became president
of the Teamsters union in 1967, he began a relationship with Frank Sheerhan, who was a professional Mafia killer, and that
Hoffa created a Teamster local in Delaware where he put Sheerhan in charge.
Former prosecutor Charles Brandt said Las Vegas should build a sculpture of Jimmy Hoffa in view
of the importance of the Teamster pension fund to Vegas.
information is common knowledge. It clearly shows that no union has any business in administering money that belongs to workers
pensions and benefits. The funds are just too important.
With this in mind,
just what are the historical credentials of top UAW officials for becoming the administrator of such a huge amount of their
member’s health care money?
would be very surprised to learn that, in the past, UAW officials have already used UAW funds to purchase several businesses
and that UAW officials have had serious problems in not being the best administrators in these businesses. One such endeavor
was when UAW officials bought and became sole owner of the United Broadcasting Company. In a story by Michael F. Munday, he
discussed how the UAW owned Florida based UBN, which at one time had 200 radio stations. Workers at this UAW company sued
the UAW claiming that the union unjustifiably fired them after manipulating a bankruptcy. See
Another example of questionable administration abilities of UAW officials comes from an
Insight on the Newspiece dated July 22, 2002 which states that UAW lawyers skirted the law and used shady tactics
amounting to obstruction of justice. The article stated that the UAW began acquiring projects , justified as training and
education funding which included a Palm Beach Resort, a failed airline, a bankrupt radio network and other businesses.The
article said The UAW was under U.S. Labor Department investigation for getting as much as $17 billion from union joint funds. See…http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_26_18/ai_90041159
Still another UAW official administration controversy comes from a December 2001 article discussing how the big
three automakers have joint operating funds with the UAW for retraining laid off workers. Sponsoring a NASCAR racer can cost
from between $8-$16 million per year per racer. This article says that there have been questionable expenditures such as sponsoring
two NASCAR racers as well other debatable expenditures. In this article Billy Robinson, president of Local 2036, stated that
the UAW has become a company union that doesn’t represent workers.
Corruption and Coordinationhttp://www.mackinac.org/article.aspx?ID=3950
Press said that what is disturbing about VEBA programs are that VEBA’s were used at Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel and
they have gone broke. See …http://www.theoaklandpress.com/stories/123005/loc_2005123001.shtml
One look is worth
a thousand words. Take a look at the National Legal and Policy Center site …http://www.nlpc.org/artindx.asp
These sites are
just the tip of the iceberg as there are many others.
companies are looking for a sure way to avoid paying their health care obligations even though their factories create many
of the very serious healthcare problems for workers. Today’s UAW officials are waiting in the wings to administer the billions of dollars in the workers’ healthcare
It could be only
a matter of short time before insufficiently negotiated VEBA funds run low of money, and the union officials who negotiated
the program are unaccountable because they are retired on their separate super safe pensions.
of UAW President Ron Gettelfinger on the buyout of Chrysler by corporate raider Cerberus is another major development that
makes workers scratch their heads. This Wall Street Company managed to cut a deal to buy 80.1 percent of Chrysler. Regardless
of Mr. Gettelfinger’s satisfaction, Chrysler workers are now targeted for a
wholesale assault. Mr. Gettelfinger is on Daimler Chrysler’s supervisory board and has commended the Cerberus deal stating
without reservation that he supports the decision because the deal is in the best interest of members.
Cerberus is an
expert in dealing with frail labor officials. Someone needs to spell out Cerberus’s history to Mr. Gettelfinger. Long-term
automotive people whose concern it is to grow a company do not populate the corporate ranks of Cerberus, quite the contrary.
Cerberus is a private equity shark with a clearly proven and notorious 16 year demonstrated
history of seeking out damaged unionized companies, like Chrysler, and then completely restructuring them by instituting painful
cost cutting at worker expense. They use the workers’ own top union officials to renegotiate contract terms that allow
massive downsizing which leads to big scale job evaporation, terrific benefit and wage concessions, the significant changing
of pensions, retiree health care benefit cuts and the turning of unions into collective beggars.
Once these vulture
companies painfully slice, dice, split and strip their corporate victim and its workers, they then flip the once proud shambled
reconfigured company for enormous billion dollar profits taken almost exclusively at the expense of employees, retirees and
their spouses.That is how they make their money. Why should anyone believe they have changed? Do they no longer want to make
the big bucks? How does this help America?
Workers are not
responsible for the corporate mismanagement that produced this disaster, but they pay the cost in lost jobs, displacement,
declined standards of living and broken retirements in their golden years.
magazine states in its June 18, 2007 edition that the Cerberus Chrysler deal is now fanning the flames for a similar private
equity deal at Ford Motor Company, so Ford can restructure and go down the same path as Chrysler.
America’s dwindling middle class is in a fight for
survival. The people unscathed and not suffering in this war are government leaders, corporate executives and top union officials.
Today’s top UAW officials have failed to protect retirees and workers. They have been disarmed, unaccountable, and asleep
at the wheel. They are now proving time after time that there are few lines that they won’t cross.
UAW leaders knew that a double standard between union leadership and union members would destroy the union from within. The
terms whipsawing, one sided concessions and retiree betrayal were not in their vocabulary.
rally cry was “ never a step backwards”. It seems that Ron Gettelfingers rallying cry has been “ don’t
say that they have had to make tough choices in recent years. The truth is that they have made the easy choices. They couldn’t
stop saying yes to the companies when they should have been saying no. The hard choices were made years ago when the UAW’s
struggling and betrayed retirees hit the picket lines to fight for these critically needed protections so the workers and
their families that followed them would benefit.
It is indisputable
that …when union officials lack purpose and direction as they volunteer and sacrifice members bedrock pensions, jobs,
health care, benefits, wages, work rules, and worker solidarity, have decades of notice and still fail to offer concrete plans
to stop the decimation of the workforce … it is being run as a company union.
It is indisputable
that …when top union officials, become corporate cheerleaders promoting the company slogans to “expect continual
worker sacrifices”, become representatives and facilitators for job destroying corporate restructuring as executives
receive millions of dollars in bonuses at the expense of workers, sign ongoing local “Modern Operating Agreements”
that evaporate long-standing job protections, allow companies to replace existing workers with new workers at half the wages,
and recruit worker “team leaders” to inflict speedups and punitive measures against their fellow workers…
it is being run as a company union.
It is indisputable
that …when top union officials behave as though their primary purpose is to collect union dues, unabashedly treat their
members as collective beggars and forsake struggling retirees at the bargaining table … it is being run as a company
years ago when great visionary union leaders with backbone, like the Reuthers, who remained close to the rank & file,
defended and built America’s middle class, creating a better America that energized our nation with jobs, decent wages
and better working conditions, today’s weak capitulating union officials are racing the clock backwards 70 years and
evaporating all of the gains.
the competency to defend UAW members, for taking their own hurting retirees to court in order to negotiate away retiree health
care benefits, for ignoring the needs of workers and their families, for breaking sacred solidarity and shamefully redefining
the term union, the wretched record of today’s UAW officials will be recorded in labor history. That will be their shameful
testament and legacy.
against working Americans by the very powers that should be protecting them is a betrayal and a cultural tragedy.