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Wednesday: Obama puts a gun to the UAW’s head

Labor protests and mourns the Triangle Shirtwaist fire

Labor protests and mourns the Triangle Shirtwaist fire

I am unabashedly pro-union.

Yeah, I know that unions are not free from corruption and sometimes their demands can seem ridculous and anachronistic.  But I would defend them to the death.  Why?

They brought us the weekend.

Let’s just think back to all of the laborers who protested and went on strike and sometimes risked their lives and livelihoods in order to achieve dignity and justice in the workplace.  Without them we wouldn’t have the minimum wage or overtime or weekends.  Working life might still be non-stop, unsafe, for little pay and no benefits.  Unions fought for all of the stuff we non-union people take for granted.  We indirectly benefit as long as unions fight for and set a standard for compensation, benefits, safety and division of labor.  Unions negotiate for themselves and it trickles down to the rest of us. In fact, the trickle down theory only makes sense with respect to unions.

And the business overlords hate them.  They’ve been under attack since the beginning of the 20th century.  Unions got stronger under the New Deal provisions of the Roosevelt Administration and met their nemesis in Ronald Reagan 40 years later.  It’s been all downhill since then.

Cesar Chavez of United Farm Workers

Cesar Chavez of United Farm Workers

Now, comes Barack Obama, who once called unions a “special interest”.  The auto industry is being forced to accept the government’s plan for rescue that will surely result in concessions from them. From the NYTimes, we get a picture of what’s going on:

If he does not act, Mr. Gettelfinger could imperil the workers he has fought to protect. In bankruptcy, companies can seek to persuade a judge to set aside labor contracts and terminate pension plans, by making a case that they are too expensive, forcing workers to rely on smaller government-provided retirement checks. But Mr. Gettelfinger also has to persuade his members that any cuts would be vital for the companies’ survival.

Pressure is mounting. G.M.’s new chief executive, Fritz Henderson, said Tuesday it was “certainly more probable” that G.M. would file for bankruptcy. Mr. Obama, on Monday, left no question that the government would not hesitate to go that route if necessary.

Obama, the “Democrat”, is finally doing what the GOP could only accomplish in their wet dreams.  Obama is putting the final nails in the unions’ coffins.  What he would not force on the bankers or the investment and insurance industries, he will ram down the throats of the guys who assemble your cars.  Gettelfinger thinks he can get a good deal with Obama.  I wouldn’t be too sure about that.  Obama is an opportunist first, last, always.  If he thinks he can get away with stripping the union of any power without raising any fuss from the public, he will.  His banker buddies will reward him lavishly for it someday.

And let’s make this clear, the people who assemble your cars did not make the management decisions to build gas guzzlers or engage in risky investments.  All they wanted were living wages, a share of the profits and a secure retirement.  They negotiated with their management for these things in good faith.  They defered part of their compensation to get pensions and health care in their old age.  Their contracts should be just as binding as any Vice President of Financial Products.  But right now, Obama is holding a gun to their heads and is forcing them to break their own contracts in order to keep their jobs.  This is not required of the criminals and thieves who took out 401K money.  Only the unions are required to do this.

“What we’ve worked for, for 25 years, can be gone in 25 days, basically,” said Bob Vistinar, an assembly inspector who has spent a quarter-century at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich. “That’s how fast this is moving.”

I’m standing in solidarity with the unions.  An attack on working people anywhere is an attack on all of us.  And I’m not giving up my weekend.

Money speaks for money, the devil for his own

Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?

The comfort to the widow, the light to the child

There is power in a union.


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Tuesday: GM dumps retiree health care

Isn’t that special? Now, the rest of us can pick up the bill for them:

Mr. Gettelfinger, for his part, is trying to protect one of the jewels of the U.A.W. contract, which is essentially health care for life for anyone who worked on the assembly line and their surviving spouses. G.M. has already canceled health care for more than 100,000 of its salaried retirees.

“The U.A.W. at this point understands that it can very well turn into the villain of this whole thing by insisting that its workers receive health care benefits that few workers do,” said Gary N. Chaison, a labor expert at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

U.A.W. members are bracing for bad news, and worrying that their health care plan will be sacrificed to keep G.M. from going bankrupt.

“Where does it all stop?” said Mike Green, president of U.A.W. Local No. 652, which represents workers in Lansing, Mich. “It would be devastating. Our typical person works between 30 and 40 years. They did their part. Why should they have it taken away with the sweep of a pen?

Or, GM could stop thinking in the present like it has been doing since the first oil crisis and turn out cars and trucks that are actually energy efficient and well designed.  It could stop hiring CEO’s who live in the moment and oppose universal healthcare until the enormous cost of it threatens to bring down their industry.  They could stop blaming labor for all of their problems.

Did you ever notice that whenever there is a crisis in an industry, it’s always labor’s fault for demanding too much?  They’re damned it they work with no protection and damned if they work with it.  If they get laid off these days, they get blamed for the cost of unemployment.  Industry would work so much better if the damn workers would just show up, do their jobs for free and go away when they’re not needed any longer.

But NOooooOOOoo.  Now we learn that the unions enjoy privileges that most workers do not.  We can all point our fingers at them and say, “They are getting more than we are.  That’s not fair!” instead of saying, “Which bozos were in charge in the past 30 years who allowed this to happen?”

As for the retirees, I feel bad for anyone with a fixed income and a health problem.  It’s too late for them to find jobs.  If they were promised healthcare, someone needs to deliver on that promise.  But instead of determining whether the company bargained in bad faith, knowing that they wouldn’t ever be expected to deliver on their future promises, we are supposed to see the UAW as the villain for trying to collect on deferred compensation.  What did the UAW concede when it struck the “retiree health care” bargain in the first place?

It sets a really bad precedent to treat retirees in one industry badly because that kind of bad behavior has a tendency to spread if no one is held accountable for promises.  What about the rest of us who have been paying our taxes and have been promised pensions, 401K’s, cash balance plans and social security?  If the UAW is forced to sacrifice for their industry, who’s next?

Ahhh, here’s the problem:

But G.M.’s plan to shrink its way to profitability will not mean much without an agreement with the U.A.W.

There is apparently no other way that GM can make a profit without getting concessions from the unions.  They can’t make better cars.  No, no, that’s completely off of the table.  And it can’t stop stupid finance deals or cut executive pay or ask their shareholders to forgo their dividends until the American auto industry gets back on its feet.  No, profitability hinges on screwing the workers.  And Obama has decided to appoint Tim Geithner and Larry “Women are intrinsically incapable of doing higher level math” Summers to supervise the agreement that gets hammered out.

How strange.  In the case of the banks, there is a decidedly hands off approach to how the financial bailout money gets spent.  The taxpayer is a silent partner while the bankers divvy up the spoils and reward themselves with lavish bonuses.  To interfere with THAT is taboo and unAmerican.  We can not direct how executives are compensated.  But with the auto industry and their measley $14 billion, well, that’s a different story.  For that, we need Geithner and Summers to supervise directly.  And unlike Wall Street, there are unions that are to be considered.  And these union members have to make concessions or the industry is unprofitable.

Ok, I see where this is going now.

Hey, don’t blame us.  We didn’t vote for him.

On another note:

Marie Cocco hits the nail on the head: the middle class benefitting from the fruits of its productivity.  We aren’t making enough to maintain a middle class lifestyle.  It’s not that we took on too much debt.  It’s that we can’t make it on what we earn these days.  Oh sure, there are always going to be people who live beyond their means intentionally.  But what about the people who live beyond their means *unintentionally*?  Why are so many people struggling with mortgages and student loans that will take a generation to pay off?

Monday: Ruminations

At the fitness center last week, the zumba instructor asked everyone to grab a set of light handweights.  What weight?, we asked.  Nothing more than 5’s.  We quickly ran out of 3’s.  “Where were the other weights?”, she asked.  “The company’s other fitness centers have all of the other weights.  Heck, they even had adjustable thingies and whatnots.  How come this one doesn’t?”

We grinned bitterly.  Why indeed?  Maybe we shouldn’t complain.  We are lucky to have a fitness center at all with weight machines, treadmills, ellipticals and towel service.  But while the fitness center for the scientists is serviceable, small and exercise classes pretty basic, with the exception of the zumba class, the two business fitness centers were spacious, better equipped, had better classes and a more zen-like feel to them.

Come to think of it, the food in their cafeterias was better too.  They had a better selection of food and registered dieticians who will consult with you on your choices.  I’d been there and seen it with my own eyes.  The food was the same price but the quality was unmistakeably better in every way.  Where our entrees are suitable for lumberjacks (basic, carb loaded but, wow!, the portions are huge!), theirs are more suitable for svelte figures and discerning palates.  They have demonstration chefs who custom prepare composed salads and stir frys.  We have surly cooks who slap roasted potatoes on your plate whether you want them or not.  As it turned out, I didn’t want.

We’ve heard all of the excuses about why the facility services are so different, ie worse, compared to the other sites.  None of the reasons make any sense.  The stupidest one was that the business folks had be compensated because most of them had to work in cube farms instead of private offices.  Oh, whoa is they!  What kind of plush digs do they imagine the scientists work in, crouched under fume hoods or perched on a stool, pipet in hand, facing row after row of tiny wells?

Hmmm, maybe they’ve got something here.  After all, *we* work with our hands.  Gentlemen and ladies do *not* work with their hands, they work with their minds.  Nevermind that some of the PhDs in those fume hoods have dedicated a decade or more to their educations and know more in their pinkies than some MBA up the road.  Nevermind that we know how to operate a spreadsheet, have to learn to navigate the SAP and purchasing procedures and are subject to the same idiotic Sarbanes-Oxley Act training as our more genteel counterparts.  What it all boils down to is that there is a potential that our hands will get dirty.  After all, don’t we wear labcoats and gloves and run around in denim all day?  {{Sniff!}}  Denim or Dockers.  Farm hands and construction workers wear denim.  Oh, sure, it’s one of the safest things you can wear in a lab, natural fibers and all standing up better to acids and other corrosive substances better than polyester type materials that have a propensity to melt and stick to the skin.

But MBAs apparently don’t think about these things much.  We dress down therefore, we must be the manual labor.  I can almost hear the negotiations with the caterer over the contract. “The business centers will require 3 hot entrees, 2 demonstration stations, the complete salad bar station, deli station, full bistro with specialty pizza, four daily soups, garde manger and healthy options section with nutritionist on staff during the hours of 11-2.  The science group?  Meat and potatoes.  Some soup, lots of chili.  Throw in some salad for those damn fitness center regulars.  That ought to do it.”

So, why am I going on like this?  I guess it was this post at Anglachel’s that reminded me of the difference between the have and have nots.  It’s sort of like 18th century England.  The peers do not engage in work.  They live off their money.  The rest of us just live off the land or our hands, no matter what our professions happen to be.  If you have to touch what earns you a living, you can bet your butt some snooty elite is looking down his nose at you and figuring that you can just do without.

I guess I shouldn’t complain.   What I’m griping about would make most people green with envy.  I have it good.   Especially compared to the hispanic drudges who clean my desk area at night.