Group: Autoworkers pushed to limit

By Jamison Cocklin


A national advocacy group consisting of both retired and current United Auto Workers members claims that though the Big Three automakers have made a profitable rebound since the financial meltdown, workers are being pushed to capacity and facing undue pressure to compete globally.

Primarily based in Detroit, the Autoworker Caravan is geared toward promoting the interests of the UAW. It was formed in 2008 to give rank-and-file union members a better position in dealing with Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

On Sunday in Detroit, autoworkers from Michigan and Ohio, including some from the Lordstown facility, came together to meet, compare experiences and discuss those things they feel should change in the workplace going forward.

“The model that is basically being used to do things, like investments in Lordstown, is to pattern facilities after models created in the nonunion South and Latin America,” said Frank Hammer, a spokesman for the Autoworker Caravan.

The group is aligned against no manufacturer in particular, but after Chrysler and GM went through restructuring after bankruptcy filings in 2009, some of the changes both companies made created divisions within their work force, Hammer said.

To control costs in their supply chains, Hammer said a multicompany strategy was pursued, and things such as plant maintenance and logistics were doled out to subcontractors who pay less than the unions do for similar work.

“It creates a fractured work force. I mean, you’re talking about $9 versus $28 an hour in some instances,” Hammer said. “It’s not a living wage, and it’s an unfairness going forward.”

Hammer said despite the fact that companies such as GM have recorded annual profits since 2010, unsafe and unsanitary conditions, excessive mandatory overtime and line speedups still are common at some plants.

But at least one UAW representative at GM’s Lords-town facility disagrees.

“I can tell you none of that happens at our facility,” said Glenn Johnson, president of UAW Local 1112. The union represents 3,100 assembly workers at Lordstown. “The national agreement is very specific on how much overtime can be worked, and that’s just not a big deal for us.”

Johnson did say, however, he stood against the two-tier wage system that occurred after restructuring. He said he believes in “equal pay for equal work” but was quick to point out an overwhelming majority of UAW workers voted for the current contracts.

“GM’s collaborative working relationship with our UAW partners produced a UAW-GM national agreement that we believe supports the best interests of our employees,” said William Grotz, GM’s corporate manager for manufacturing and labor communications. “Since the ratification of the 2011 national agreement, GM has announced more than $1.9 billion in U.S. facility investments.”

The UAW’s contract with all three automakers expires in 2015, and the advocacy group wants to ensure that the union’s needs are met three years from now.

“Given that we’re dealing with a global-production system, this is proactive on our part,” Hammer said. “People are only getting one side of the story. Growing jobs is good, but UAW members are getting involved early so that they can influence negotiations later.”

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