Will UAW represent rank and file again?

March 8, 2015

From the March-April 2015 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—There will be a laundry list of grievances presented at the United Auto Workers (UAW) union bargaining convention to be held in Detroit, Mich, in March. Many of these grievances have been festering throughout auto plants in the country since 2009, when General Motors and Chrysler went bankrupt.

Since 2007, the contract has included a no-strike clause. Now that the UAW can strike after the contract expires, auto workers are watching to see what UAW president Dennis Williams will do.

There is little question what the major focus for Williams will be. He has already given notice that a wage increase, which auto workers haven’t had for ten years, is a top priority. There is also speculation that he will try to eliminate the two-tier wage system now in effect, wherein new hires start at $14 an hour, or about half of the rate for long-term workers. This has long been a source of friction between recent hires and veteran workers, because a young worker doing the same job as an older worker gets paid half as much.

Since the economic recovery, the auto companies have made billions of dollars in profits. The more than 140,000 union auto workers naturally feel entitled to share in those billions, especially since it is their labor that has produced all of the billions in the first place.

There are some indications that Williams will be restrained in his aggressiveness by his efforts to organize unions at Volkswagen in St. Louis and at Mercedes-Benz in Alabama, to avoid the impression that he is a firebrand out to pillage the South. This attitude will not sit well with the rank-and-file auto workers, who need and want a fighter.

—Andy Phillips

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