The union also wants the automakers—sometimes called the Detroit Three—to abolish the tiered wage systemwhich pays new employees far less than more experienced workers, even for the same work. The UAW initially said it was seeking a wage increase of 40% over four years and the restoration of a cost-of-living allowance that would link wages to inflation.
In addition to these demands, the UAW wants defined-benefit pensions for all workers restored, company-paid health benefits for retirees reestablished and the right to strike over plant closures guaranteed. Other demands include more paid time off and seeing all temporary workers made permanent. It has also called for a 32-hour work week without a pay cut.
Precedents for working together
Although the strike has emphasized the goal of boosting future autoworker pay and benefits, I believe that workers and management can look to the past for ideas that might help them move forward.
GM’s Saturn partnership offers one potential model.
GM invested billions of dollars in this venture, through which it tried to compete with Japanese imports and transplants that were quickly eroding GM’s market share. Saturns were designed differently than other U.S. vehicles, but what made those vehicles special was the extent to which laborshared the responsibility for running Saturn’s main factory.
The Saturn partnership was hard to maintain, especially following the departure of Roger B. Smiththe General Motors CEO who had pushed hard for it. The company stopped making Saturns in 2009but the former subsidiary’s overall approach of involving workers in decisions about their jobs and the manufacturing process remains as critical today as it was in its heyday.
I would encourage the auto industry to again invoke the spirit of the Saturn venture, which emphasized the collaboration and partnership of labor and management in the production of high-quality, world-class vehicles. Only this time, the vehicles will be EVs.
GM offers another model for positive union-management relations.
About 20 years ago, its Lansing-Grand River assembly plant in Michigan began to engage in a similar example of what I call joint responsibility unionism.
Management and the local UAW union established a contractual commitment to work together to continually improve production by systematically solving problems and increasing productivity.
The local union and management hold each other accountable for keeping costs down and quality high. The plant, which assembles Cadillacs and Chevy Camaroscontinues this approach successfully today.
Instead, they’ll need to focus on finding solutions together that increase productivitybuild a skilled workforce and efficiently convert plants that make conventional vehicles today to EV factories tomorrow. In so doing, the UAW is more likely to meet its goal of seeing those EV factories employ its members.
Opinion: Union and execs need to shift gears fast after strike—transition to EV manufacturing requires their teamwork (2023, September 25)
retrieved 25 September 2023
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