I understand why you’re upset. You feel attacked. The protected position your union provided you is being publicly dissected. The source of your employment hangs in the precarious balance. You lack the power to determine your own fate.
Recently, you and some of your fellow United Automobile Workers union members have lashed out, blaming corporate problems on poor management, greed, Washington, trade agreements, foreign manufacturers, the media, bad tires, gas prices and even the car-buying public. You claim you are misunderstood, maligned by what you believe is a jealous public.
Let me clear up the confusion. The truth is, I don’t care how much money you make. The only salary I care about is mine. I also don’t care about how hard you say your job is.
And the reason I don’t care is because you chose to work in the automotive industry.
If you are presently working at Kentucky Truck Plant or Louisville Assembly Plant, you applied for, won and have kept your job despite opportunity for buyouts. Nobody held a gun to your head and forced you to take your job. Nobody promised you the job would be a cakewalk. You knew manufacturing jobs are physically taxing and can be irreversibly debilitating. Still, you felt the salary and benefits were desirable and therefore consciously accepted the job, whatever the tradeoff.
As for your generous U.A.W.-negotiated benefits — the fact you are paid about three-fourths of your salary when you’re laid off; that upon retirement you continue to get healthcare coverage in addition to a pension; that a ridiculously princely, lie-around-and-suck-up-money-for-nothing Jobs Bank exists — hey, if you can get ’em, God bless ya.
Only I’m not going to pay for all that. And I’m certainly not going to advocate loaning money, especially $25 billion, to companies that do.
Let me introduce myself: I’m the American taxpayer. I am a waitress, a taxi driver, a carpenter, a teacher, a radio-show host, a small-business owner. I worry about paying for my family’s healthcare and outliving my money when I retire.
As for you — I wish you well, but you’re on your own.
Whatever was negotiated between your union and your employer, whatever concessions the U.A.W. made in the past have absolutely nothing to do with me. I have zero obligations to make sure your life is lived with relative financial security.
The Gulf Stream-flying big shots running your company want me and 300 million of my fellow Americans to lend them money. The thing is: I’m not convinced Big Auto is a good investment.
Oh, I understand the failure of one or all three American automobile manufacturers would have a colossal impact on our economy. I’ve heard the staggering predictions about actual and auxiliary jobs that would be lost. I also understand the positives and negatives associated with a bankruptcy filing.
But even if Washington gave GM, Chrysler and Ford $25 billion tomorrow, without a solidly crafted, radically different business plan, the companies would probably still fail. It’s pretty simple. Companies succeed when they make money. Companies make money when profits exceed costs. The biggest costs involved in the production of cars and trucks are materials and labor.
That brings us back to you and the U.A.W.
Let’s be clear — the union is not solely responsibly for the Big Three’s insolvency. Those factors are many and they are complex.
However, what the U.A.W. does in the next few weeks will either give GM, Ford and Chrysler a jumpstart, or effectively park them for eternity.
For the second time in this article (I note this because a common talking point brought up to impress the public is the U.A.W.’s supposed benevolence), I acknowledge that in 2006, the union made contractual concessions.
It now has to do that again. This is rubber-meets-the-road time. Big Auto is bleeding money. Ford is doing better than the other two manufacturers, but Ford needs time to roll out its re-tooled products and for the economy and consumer confidence to recover.
Big Auto can’t save money by cutting back on quality. That won’t sell cars and trucks. So all forms of compensation, at every level of employment, and all contractual obligations, must be reduced, postponed or eliminated.
Is that fair when dealing with people? Families? No. But this is business. It’s not personal.