Feb. 7, 2006 – In an old twist from the anti-union playbook, prominent auto-industry analysts and some government officials are warning that a coveted new automotive plant planned for Michigan is in jeopardy because of recent union activity in the state. The main threat, they say, is a group of dissident United Auto Workers (UAW) members who are rallying against union leaders.
Hoping to bring new investment into the stateâ€™s declining car-manufacturing sector, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has been courting Toyota. According to recent news reports, the Japanese automaker is seriously eyeing the southeastern portion of the state as a potential site for a new engine plant. However, company officials are reportedly hesitating because of the volatility of the domestic auto industryâ€™s relationship with organized labor.
In a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press, David Cole, director of the business-supported auto-industry analysis group Center for Auto Research (CAR), said concerns about the UAW -- and especially about a splinter group that has bucked both the union and corporate leaderships -- may hurt economic prospects by turning Toyota away from Michigan. Demonstrations and calls for grassroots action against UAW leaders by the dissident workers, which call themselves Soldiers of Solidarity (SoS), "absolutely scares the liver out of Toyota," Cole said.
First emerging at the beginning of the year, the SoS represents the sharpest internal criticism of the UAW leadershipâ€™s handling of conflicts with large domestic auto and auto-parts makers. The union and big auto companies have been at odds over legacy costs for years, a situation which grew in intensity last year as parts-supplier Delphi Corp. went into bankruptcy and Ford and General Motors announced that they were cutting tens of thousands from payrolls in coming years.
Legacy costs refer to health, pension and related benefits that were long the bread and butter of labor unions and now represent a liability for companies and, they contend, place US auto makers at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. According to the UAW, such costs add an average of $1,300 to the price of autos. Recent findings by Oxford Analytica, an Oxford University-based business trend analysis group, found that unionized US workers earn the equivalent of three times their non union foreign colleagues.
A growing rift has emerged from a controversial December vote granting healthcare concessions to Ford. UAW announced that Ford workers had approved a new healthcare deal by a 51â€“49 percent margin, but has yet to disclose the voter turnout or the full vote tally.
According to the Detroit Free Press, while the agreement is projected to save Ford around $850 million a year, it will cost individual workers hundreds annually.
SoS, which has opposed the deal, is circulating a petition calling for the vote to be nullified due to concerns over its legitimacy. The group has asked supporters to actively press the union to disclose the full results. "Some members, including some local officers, across the country are planning a protest of the conduct of the vote and the accuracy of the results," SoS member Ron Lare said.
SoS, which advocates for greater worker control of both unions and auto plants held a protest against the Ford health care concessions at a Grand Rapids, Michigan auto show this past weekend. Members are also planning a demonstration next week to protest Delphiâ€™s attempts to break its contract with UAW as part of its plan to emerge from bankruptcy.
As The NewStandard reported previously, both UAW leaders and labor analysts have contended that this move could severely weaken the union. However, although UAW President Ron Gettlefinger has criticized Delphiâ€™s actions in the past, the union has been less aggressive in recent statements and just two weeks ago agreed to take a non-voting seat on the committee overseeing the companyâ€™s payments to creditors At the same time, UAW officials have not publicly responded to these criticisms from within its ranks.