By Gordon H. Fletcher
I read the Oct. 21 Buffalo News article “Bailout drives Ohio debate.” There still seems to be quite a bit of confusion about what really happened in the so-called “bailout” of the auto industry.
First of all, this was a loan and not a “bailout.” The banks got bailed out. GM and Chrysler had to pay the money back, which they both have, and had to accept changes set by the government.
Some believe that the UAW involvement in politics has given it an advantage over the salaried workers. UAW workers at Delphi had their wages cut by up to 40 percent. Most lost their pensions and others have to “flow back” to a GM facility to continue their pensions. In some cases this means leaving the state. The rest can “flow back” to another facility, but do not get their pension and the GM current rate of pay.
Meanwhile, at GM, the salaried workers not only retained their pensions and pay, they actually received pay raises. The company calls them retention bonuses. It says it needs them to retain its salaried talent. Question is, why retain those who led the company into bankruptcy?
GM was forced to do business in a manner consistent with the transplant automakers. This means that more of the workforce is temporary hires, not permanent. That translates to workers with no vacation time, no health benefits, no retirement, no future at the plant and half the wages of permanent workers.
In the end, the hourly workers took huge concessions, which included wage freezes. The retired UAW workers had their health care put into a trust. The company doesn’t have to contribute anything more to their health care now. So, did some salaried workers lose? Yes, at Delphi. However, hourly workers at both facilities did, too. The difference is, some salaried workers got increases.
GM and Chrysler are now profitable even without cutting wages to longtime union employees. This proves that it was not the union wages and benefits that were the problem. Poor management was to blame. Some 1.4 million workers were not let go in a terrible economy and more workers are being hired, even if only temporarily. This is all good for the economy.
For this even to be a question during this election is alarming. To have a candidate who said he would have put 1.4 million workers on the street to break union contracts is even more alarming. Do not buy into the anti-union sentiment that has been spread by one party. Understand, only 11.8 percent of the American work force is unionized.
What happened to the Delphi workers, hourly and salaried, should hold lessons for all workers in this country. Those lessons are, being a union worker is far safer than being a non-union worker, and collective bargaining agreements safeguard the majority of worker rights.
Gordon H. Fletcher III is president of UAW Local 686 in Lockport.