UAW to fight two-tier?

April 30, 2015

From the May-June 2015 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—Meeting on March 24-25, some 900 delegates from more than 800 local unions representing automotive, aerospace, education, healthcare, public work and other areas of the economy heard reports and discussed strategies for the United Auto Workers (UAW) contract that expires in September 2015.

While other unions were briefly noted, the focus of the Negotiating Conference was on the auto workers and the aim of “bridging the gap” in the two-tier wage system negotiated in 2007 to reduce costs for the crisis-ridden companies. It permitted them to pay new hires $15.78 per hour, and after four years up to $19.28 per hour, compared with $28 per hour for older workers, even though they do the same work.

This has always been a source of friction between older and younger workers, and it violates one of the main union principles—equal pay for equal work. At the present time, about 39,500 of 137,300 hourly autoworkers, or 28% of UAW members, make the lower wage scale. As expected, the resolution submitted to eliminate the two-tier system won unanimous support, although there were no specifics on how this would be done.

What came as a shock to many at the conference was to hear UAW President Denis Williams say that he believed in a $15 an hour minimum wage. This is a near poverty wage, and many of the workers at the conference said they could not live on a wage of $15 an hour.

Meanwhile, in the nation as a whole, labor has been under a vicious assault, and never more so than in the last decade. Since 2003, wages in manufacturing have dropped 4.4%, from $16.38 an hour to $15.66 an hour, reflecting the results of this assault. To halt this attack, and reverse the many defeats that labor has suffered, a profound change in labor leadership is required. There is no one promising in sight among union bureaucrats.

—Andy Phillips

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