Strike Strategy

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

When we were in Detroit over the summer, there were already rumblings of how important the UAW negotiations would be. The car makers have to cut costs to survive, thanks to the competition from Asian companies like Toyota and Honda. On the other side of the table sit the union workers... hardworking people with families and mortgages and multiple generations in the auto plants. Keeping the two sides apart, of course, are issues like health care, pensions, pay, and job security. Intractable to say the least. Still, the strike took most people by surprise (including many of the workers now on strike). Analysts seem to think it will be a short strike, and for the most part workers say they hope to be back at work soon. We must have some of the striking workers, or their family members, in our audience. How long do you think the strike will last, and will it do any good?

The ideas that GM is not competitive because of Legacy costs is a lie. GM upper management still get multi million dollar bonus' and they are building plants worldwide and hiring lower wage workers. The productivity in those plants is lower, and quality is poorer.
GM needs to improve MANY business practices, and be more nimble in it's design and innovation to be competitive.
This strike is publicized as if it's the fault of the greedy american worker.
Virtually NO company would provide health care if it were not for unions in our past.
My mom is on strike, and about to retire from GM. She went to work in the unhealthy and unsafe plant environment to take care of two kids when our father left. She was assured she would always have her health care covered. Taking this away from retirees is unconscionable, and from current workers is a danger to our entire nation.
This is proof of our poorly designed global trade agreements bringing America down, instead of the rest of the world up!!!

Sent by Valerie McCrady | 2:23 PM | 9-25-2007

Middle class Americans have expressed disdain for universal health care, and they express disdain for workers who seek health care coverage from employers. What do people want? Health care only for the very wealthy? We'll eventually have to pick one: taxes to cover universal coverage, or requiring employers to give adequate coverage to workers without fighting them every step of the way. The alternative ??? a middle class that can???t afford health care ??? is untenable for obvious reasons. Go UAW.

Sent by Jim | 2:51 PM | 9-25-2007

Why are the american workers at "foreign car companies" not unionized?

Sent by JP (Minnesota) | 2:53 PM | 9-25-2007

I think the lack of sympathy for the striking workers comes from the fact that the rest of us have learned to live without the benefits the workers are striking for. The rest of us don't have job security, the rest of us don't have retirement health benefits, the rest of us don't have pension plans. While it's certainly within their rights to strike for whatever cause they wish, don't expect sympathy from the average American.

Sent by Amanda | 2:54 PM | 9-25-2007

You might ask the auto workers how much they are paid per hour. If you check it out you will find they are extremely overpaid for what they do. To ask for paid medical care is the last straw and will result in the demise of the GM - golden goose. Then the over paid union members will loose everything.

Sent by Ron Gomes | 2:57 PM | 9-25-2007

Often we forget that it was General Motors who financed the removal of trolley tracks from cities and towns across the country years ago because they were manufacturing buses. This is a diabolical corporation only interested in profit an any cost.
Until the supreme court changes corporation laws so that they must consider human rights, we will continue to have such blind selfishness. General Motors karma is returning to them for what they did to America.

Sent by Mary Luketich (Luke-a-tich), Austin, Texas | 3:00 PM | 9-25-2007

I have two thoughts. The first is on productivity, the second is on how long the strike could last.

One of the factors that hurts GM's productivity is the Jobs Bank, through which nearly 8,000 union workers receive full pay and benefits to attend classes, do volunteer work in the community, or just sit and play cards. At an estimated cost of $130,000 annually in wages and benefits per person, this amounts to more than $1 Billion in expense that does not produce one single vehicle. While unions have done great things for the American worker, it does not help GM's competitiveness to pay a UAW worker $30/hour to build a Tahoe when Toyota pays an non-union American worker $14/hour to build a Sequoia. Wage costs are either passed on to the auto purchaser or absorbed as losses.

Second, on how long this will last, I give it a maximum of 13 weeks. The strike fund of $200 Million will cover 73,000 workers at $200/week for about one business quarter, or roughly 13 weeks. It may end sooner if demand is keen for the 2008 models, since this strike began shortly after the 2008 models shipped. However, $200/week doesn't begin to cover what $1200/week did ($30/hour x 40 hours), so when I look at the forgone wages of $1,000/week, I don't see this strike lasting more than 5 or 6 weeks at the most.

Sent by Jeremy Lauhe | 3:04 PM | 9-25-2007

I believe that our newest generation has an attitude towards labor unions and the world of work that ranges from indifference to one of hostility. If you look at the shows and commercials about working people, you see a workplace peopled with lazy, joke-cracking workers. They're throwing airplanes, eating cereal in their cubicles and generally goofing off. Our young people are raised to do sports and get ready for college. I wonder whether
work is taken seriously by some of us. Maybe the UAW comes off like a dinosaur in the land of MTV.

Sent by Sandra | 3:04 PM | 9-25-2007

A listener called in--he was a truck driver who would be out of work because of the strike and resented that fact. Amanda commented via email that striker's shouldn't expect sympathy from the average American because "we have learned to live without the benefits the workers are striking for."

What are they thinking? "They break our legs and we say thank you when they offer us crutches?"

I find it simply incomprehensible that anyone could possibly justify resenting strikers because "they" have benefits and "we" don't. If you resent NOT having benefits or the lack of a strike fund that would pay you the apparently overwhelming sum of $200/week, JOIN A UNION AND FIGHT FOR THOSE BENEFITS.

For twenty five years the gap between executive salaries and the salaries of the rest of the work force in the US has widened more than any other industrialized nation, to the point that one executive can get a $684-million bonus, or five executives can receive a bonus of $25 million for firing 25,000 people! The New York Times published some data that showed the current distribution of wealth in the US closer to the Robber Baron Gilded Age than it has ever been since that era.

Sometimes I feel like I'm watching a society that should go by the proper name of Rip Van Winkle.

Sent by db | 3:17 PM | 9-25-2007

I'm extremely annoyed that not one TOTN commentator has mentioned the reason for GM's 'problems'. THEY MAKE JUNK!!!

Toyotas and Hondas have been MORE expensive than GM cars for a while, now. So why are people paying more? Because GM and the other two aren't making anything that people want to buy. Where is the hybrid to match the Prius? GM has had at least 5 years to figure something out. It just isn't interested. Where is a mid-sized wagon to match my Subaru? Nothing American even comes close for reliability and features. How many more examples must I cite?

GM has no business pleading poverty. They've had 30 years to come up with quality products people will buy. All those overpaid execs should be taken task for trying to stick it to their workers for their appalling lack of vision and common sense. If the muck-a-mucks at GM want some cooperation, let them cut their executive and board pay in half. THAT would be a gesture of their seriousness. But no, they want their workers to pay for their stupidity and lack of leadership.

Sent by Fred Jacobowitz | 10:49 PM | 9-25-2007

Clearly we were not going to get any sympathetic treatment of strikers on Talk of the Nation today. We heard about how the Union Member will get no sympathy because they still receive some benefits form unionization even though there real standard of living has declined over the last 2+ decades. However we had no corresponding discussion of how much the corporate elite working for GM have improved their wages and benefits in the same time even though clearly the company they have been running has been in decline.

Sent by Steve Bruesewitz | 12:34 AM | 9-26-2007

I didn't mean to imply I resented strikers. I am completely happy with my employer and the opportunities and benefits I am offered.

Maybe it is a generational thing, but I don't expect my company to take care of me in retirement. Frankly, I don't expect to be with this company when I retire. The notions of company loyalty, job security, and a relationship with my employer after I retire seem antiquated to me.

But I realize that I have time to plan and save for retirement. I don't expect to have a pension or even Social Security or Medicare, so I'm taking care of myself. If I had relied on promises of benefits after retirement, only to have them taken away later without a chance to adjust my savings plans, I would be fighting for those benefits, too.

I'm not privy to the details of the dispute, so maybe I came off harsh. But I don't fault GM for trying to follow the rest of America's employers by discontinuing defined benefit plans.

Sent by Amanda | 11:21 AM | 9-26-2007