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ADA National Director Blasts Criticism of Auto Workers

Posted Nov 21 2008 at 2:56 PM
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When did having a good paying job become a crime?  With the Big 3 U.S. automakers seeking a taxpayer funded bail out, there have been a shocking number of attacks on working people simply for having the good sense to join a union and collectively bargain for better wages, good benefits and a dignified retirement.

Reactionaries on the Right would have us believe UAW members single-handedly brought down the industry for having the gall to ask for more than a Wal-mart wage.  The truth of the matter is that union represented auto workers do have a decent standard of living but hardly live high on the hog.  The average wage for a production worker at GM is $27/hour.  Not a bad living until you remember that, according to U.S, standards, a worker with a family earning $10.60/hour lives below the poverty line.  The only difference then between a GM worker and an American living in poverty is $17 and a union membership.  Or put another way, the difference between a union GM worker and a Wal-mart employee is that GM workers can afford to buy the product they make. 

So why, then, is the first stop in the cost savings plan for manufacturers with a union represented workforce always a cut in employee wages and benefits?  I don’t recall anyone at Fox News calling for mid- and low-level employees at the Wall Street firms we just bailed out to take a pay cut as a condition for their employers to receive government aid.  This is an unjustifiable bias against working people.

Real contempt for people who come home at the end of the day with dirt under their fingernails is nothing new from the folks that tell us they represent the real America.  It’s clear now the only America they’re really concerned about is the one made up of hedge fund managers, CEOs and shareholders.  It is equally clear that they are ready to sacrifice workers, their families, their communities and the countless others dependent upon the auto industry on the altar of their failed free market ideology.  They blame “lazy” workers and never get around to explaining how our economy would work if average workers do not earn enough to buy the goods we produce.   If they want a future where the best their children can hope for is to earn a poverty wage, they’re welcome to it, but that’s not the future America wants.

It is time for a change at the Big 3 for sure, after decades of bad management, stagnation, misjudging the affects of our dependence on foreign oil, and being ill-prepared for economic slowdown, automakers are on the verge of collapse.  But that change should not include lower wages, poor health care benefits and dwindling pensions for the workers who have dedicated their lives to an industry once the heartbeat of the American economy. 

No, if the government is to help make the Big 3 more competitive, the first thing they should do is make it easier for unions to organize the Toyota, Honda and Nissan plants in the U.S.  Level the playing field by letting workers employed by foreign automakers operating plants in places like Mississippi and Tennessee join unions.  The increased wages unions could negotiate for workers would not only improve workers’ lives but also aid local and state governments desperate for new tax revenue.  The solution to this problem is not to make things more difficult for the millions of American workers in one of our country’s most vital industries, but rather make things easier for them and millions more by making union membership easier and the union job standard of living the goal.

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