Don't Make Auto Workers Pay the Tab for Corporate Greed

Labor is used to making concessions -- the executives are not. And look where that got us.

I don't usually see eye-to-eye with George W. Bush, but I am grateful that he took some steps last week to bail out the auto industry.

After all, how could we bail out the Wall Street elite without also making an effort to save the largest single segment of the U.S. manufacturing industry?

In other words, how can we bail out the white-collar bankers without making a similar gesture to save the blue-collar auto workers who have traditionally formed the foundation of the U.S. economy?

The price of inaction would have been devastating to our already devastated economy.

Nevertheless, the auto bailout seems to be a soap-box magnet for the anti-worker crowd.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union has already had to make some concessions under the bailout. But apparently that is not enough. Some people just want an end to unions. Gotta keep the power away from the little people.

I keep hearing the right-wing propagandists complaining that members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union make more than $70 per hour (thereby somehow justifying their demise). But that allegation is deliberately misleading.

The truth is that the average UAW member makes about $30 per hour in wages, bonuses, overtime, and paid time off, with maybe another $15 in benefits.

So let's do the math:

$30 per hour x 40 hours per week = $1,200 per week.

$1,200 per week x 52 weeks = $62,400 per year.

Plus the usual benefits. Nothing special.

So the UAW members make a solid middle-class living at $62,000 per year, for doing some good, hard work. What exactly is the problem with this?

Many of their critics are in positions that easily yield a much more lucrative hourly fee. So why do they want to deny the hard-working auto workers their own chance at the American dream?

That, of course, is a rhetorical question. It's clearly all just a political or ego-driven thing -- or both.

So the anti-worker folks keep calling for labor concessions to keep the industry going.

Never mind the fact that the workers' salaries are a drop in the bucket compared to what the CEOs have been raking in (not even counting their private jets).

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. Along with the so-called "free trade" practices that have done so much to support our overseas competition in the auto industry and other major industries. And along with the fact that Detroit lags way behind Japan in designing and producing vehicles that could reduce our dependency of fossil fuels.

Those things are not the fault of the line worker. They are the result of corporate greed. Doing the right thing sometimes temporarily cuts down on corporate profits and CEO bonuses. So doing the right thing is unthinkable, of course.

That is what got us into this mess. Nevertheless, again they want the workers to pay the price for the sins of the backward-thinking corporate executives.

Labor is used to making concessions. The executives are not.

And look where that got us.

It is time to change that paradigm, if the industry is to be saved for the long run. I hope that the Obama administration will do so. You know, change we can believe in.

And it seems that we may have some hope in that regard.

Hilda Solis is Barack Obama's nominee for Labor Secretary. And she has a solid track record on the side of labor.

Unfortunately, the Obama-Biden-Solis administration remains powerless for another four weeks.

Hopefully the holiday season will be enough of a distraction to keep things from getting too out-of-hand in the meantime.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She currently serves as Philadelphia Area Coordinator for Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed in this article are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty or any other organization with which she may be associated.
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