UAW Members Approve Chrysler Contract Despite Lead Negotiator’s Dissent: Has the Process Been Corrupted?

Negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the Big Three automakers ended a couple of weeks ago with contracts that were once again overwhelming wins for management. Now two of the contracts – with GM and Chrysler; the contract with Ford will probably be sent to members this week – have been subjected to a vote and both have been accepted, though the Chrysler deal was a real squeaker.

As it should have been. It’s a terrible contract, barely holding the line on wages for experienced workers and cutting wages for new hires in half. Worse yet, unlike GM, Chrysler negotiators refused to offer their employees any job security. The contract is so bad that the union’s chief negotiator refused to support it. Yet union leaders, on orders from above, prowled shop floors this week putting a lot of pressure on workers to vote for an agreement that is a clear victory for the automakers and just as clearly against the workers’ best interests.

I hate to say it – and I emphasize that no evidence has surfaced to suggest such a thing – but these deals smell so bad, have so many earmarks of a “sweetheart deal”, that I have to wonder: Has the UAW leadership been bought off by the companies? Is the contract process corrupt?


Both of the contracts released so far have angered large numbers of workers. The NYT report today noted:

Approval of the Chrysler contract came after one of the most tumultuous votes in recent memory. Some local union officials opposed the agreement, reached on Oct. 10 after a six-hour strike. It looked to be in danger when workers at four assembly plants rejected the contract in votes last weekend.

Opponents voiced concerns that the contract did not provide as many guarantees of future work as a similar contract approved by workers at General Motors earlier this month, after a two-day strike.

Actually, the contract provided NO guarantee of future work. Chrysler negotiators refused even the tepid “maybe” of the GM contract. Both contracts dump responsibility for retirees’ health care on the union, and do it with questionable funding mechanisms that may leave the new union health insurance entity well short of the money projected to be needed in the future. In effect, both automakers have shoved a major liability off on the union with a lump sum payment estimated by some to be half what they would have paid without this deal. In return the union got…nothing. No raises, no improvement in pension benefits. Nothing.

In what universe could the UAW call this a good contract? Despite UAW Pres Ronald Gettelfinger’s tough talk last March, his negotiators caved in, giving management almost everything it wanted. The best you can say of this deal is that it doesn’t actually cut employee compensation for skilled workers. That’s a victory?

A commenter on the piece I wrote at Matewan about the GM deal replied in part: was the local Union going around to all the older workers assuring them that this was the best deal for them…”dont worry you can stay on your current job, no they wont make you go back to the line”…”there are no non-core jobs here right now” Hey, you’ll be okay…this garauntees your pension and healthcare…the younger guys will get it back later on when things get better for the company” basically they lied and just verbally assured it was good…no proof just speculation…”If this doesnt pass the MEDIA WILL EAT US ALIVE, and call us lazy Autoworkers”….

If that’s an accurate picture of the way the leadership sold this chunk of rancid cheese – and press reports indicate it is – then we’re stuck in the same dilemma with the UAW that we are with Congressional Democrats: Are union leaders hopelessly scared or thoroughly corrupt? The answer concerning the Donkeys becomes clearer every day: as I suspected long ago, they’ve sold their soul to the devil for campaign $$$. Harry Reid is about to violate Senate tradition and protocol by forcing a vote over Chris Dodd’s hold on the FISA bill that would give immunity to telecom corps for breaking the law because the Emperor ordered them to. Seems pretty obvious now that that’s the result of intense lobbying combined with major campaign contributions by those same telecom corps to Reid’s re-election committee.

I think it’s fair to ask the same question of the UAW leadership: What are you getting in return for screwing your membership? Payments made to numbered bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, perhaps? What excuse would you like to offer for this monstrosity of a contract? Fear?

And before you answer, I would remind you that Democrats have been using that excuse for 7 years now and it’s wearing mighty thin.

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