Friday, October 2, 2015

UAW rank and file reject national deal in first such defeat in decades. Offshoring and outsourcing US labor now affects majority of remaining US workers. NY Times compares rise of Donald Trump and workers' historic rejection of union deal

"While offshoring and outsourcing labor had been undermining workers’ leverage for decades, those forces had in recent years begun to affect a majority of workers, who now experience declining or stagnating real wages."

10/1/15, "U.A.W. Contract Vote at Fiat Chrysler Takes a Populist Tone," NY Times, Noam Scheiber. 10/2 print ed.

"With Donald Trump and other political outsiders towering over Jeb Bush and the rest of the Republican presidential field, Bernie Sanders surging past Hillary Clinton in early polling in New Hampshire, and executives like Don Thompson, the former McDonald’s chief, ousted in the face of declining sales and labor strife, it is clearly not a good time to be an establishment figure.

Now there is yet another establishment scalp to consider: the leadership of one of the country’s largest and most important unions, the United Automobile Workers. In voting that ended this week, the union’s members stingingly rejected the national agreement their leaders had painstakingly worked out with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It was the first such defeat in decades.

In many ways, the tentative contract negotiated by the U.A.W., under its president, Dennis Williams, had much to recommend it. It would have lifted the maximum pay of entry-level workers to over $25 an hour from around $19 an hour, and the pay of many veteran workers to around $30 an hour from around $28 — the first across-the-board raise in roughly a decade. It also gave every worker a ratification bonus of $3,000, and other bonuses worth thousands....

But the membership worried that the company’s commitments on health care were too vague, and that some domestic production might be moved to Mexico.

Above all, rank-and-file workers complained that the union had abandoned a promise to rein in the so-called two-tier system, in which entry-level employees are consigned to a lower salary range with no hope of ascending to the higher pay scale.

“People feel like the leadership has insulted them,” said Scott McGinnis, a worker at Chrysler’s plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. “Considering the trust people feel has been broken, they really feel questionable about” the possibility of improvements in future deals.

Such was the level of suspicion toward the leadership that some workers uploaded photos of their ballots onto a handful of Facebook pages as evidence in the event the union failed to properly count them.

Chrysler and the other two Detroit automakers have been consistently profitable in the last few years. In that context, members believed it was only fair to undo the most unsavory concessions they made when Chrysler lay on its deathbed around the time of the most recent recession.

But while the union has some leverage — Chrysler in particular has so little redundancy in its production that a strike at a single plant could cripple its domestic operation — in a globalized economy the U.A.W. may simply not have the power to demand these changes.

“There was an inability to manage expectations of the membership,” Ms. Dziczek said, noting that one of the union’s mottos dating back to Mr. Williams’s election last year, “It’s Our Time,” may have unrealistically implied to members that they would be made nearly whole after years of concessions. (A U.A.W. spokesman declined to comment.)...

The old 20th-century income distribution system has broken down,” said Guy Standing, a professor of development studies at the University of London, whose book “The Precariat” traces the implications of a growing mass of economically insecure workers.

Professor Standing noted that while offshoring and outsourcing labor had been undermining workers’ leverage for decades, those forces had in recent years begun to affect a majority of workers, who now experience declining or stagnating real wages. (The book’s title combines “precarious” with “proletariat.”)

“You’re getting a huge growth of the precariat, and more people feeling they could join it at any stage,” he said. “When they look to the old institutions, they don’t actually feel that these institutions are relevant for their particular way of life.”...

Many autoworkers were irate that the union leadership had indicated in a summary document it distributed tied to its 2011 negotiations with Fiat Chrysler that the company would cap entry-level employees at 25 percent in 2015, only to claim in recent weeks that the promise was, in effect, a misstatement.

“If this was in fact something that was not in the 2011 contract, why do so many people have the paperwork?” asked Mr. McGinnis, the Chrysler worker. “But nobody conveniently knows about it.”


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