Not Loving The UAW : Planet Money Ian writes:

Not Loving The UAW

Ian writes:

I am from suburban Detroit and felt that Mr. Langfitt's comments were definitely reflective of several aspects of the area and its connection to the auto industry -- and yes, it is true that nearly everyone has some relative that has worked or works for the "Big Three." That said, it should be noted that his comments seem to reflect, for the most part, only the views of UAW members. Of course I can only speak for my self, but anecdotally I know I am far from alone in having feelings of animosity towards the UAW and its overpaid members; this phenomenon of ill will is not isolated to cosmopolitan coastal cities.

Yes, the auto industry has for years been the life-blood of Detroit's economy, but I think there is plenty of resentment on the part of non-UAW workers in the area who do similar jobs in other sectors of manufacturing but receive significantly less pay and benefits. And lower-paid professionals as well, such as office workers, teachers, social workers etc... who feel that they have paid for college and have worked hard, but could have the same pay and benefits if they had landed an unskilled or semi-skilled union job out of high school.

Even if we do get discounts from family members at the dealerships (my grandfather worked for Ford, not that I have ever been able to afford a new car), the inflated wages of UAW members are reflected in the prices or gutted out of the quality of those cars in the first place. Everyone has heard stories of autoworkers taking two hour lunch breaks or the afternoon off because their union-negotiated quotas are ridiculously low. This causes jealousy and disdain.

Even if things are changing -- and they certainly are -- the UAW has created a culture in which people believe they are entitled to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle without any sort of post-high school education or without developing any specialized set of skills. Don't get me wrong, I think everyone should have a comfortable life, including health insurance and a living wage. But the level of expectations for prosperity that autoworkers have had over the past few generations are totally unsuited for today's economy.

Personally, I feel that it's time to move on to other industries that will actually be profitable and that only a miniature version of the auto industry should remain. The challenge is that Detroit needs a new generation of workers that have a more robust set of skills. If the UAW had instituted comprehensive vocational training programs instead of pay raises for the past three generations, Detroit's manufacturing wealth could have propelled it into a new phase of prosperity. Instead, we are left with a the biggest industrial hangover in the country and no clear way forward.