Laboring America

Laboring America


Which auto executive said this about his organization: We “recognize(s) that flexibility, innovation, lean manufacturing and continuous cost improvement are paramount in the global marketplace.” You might not have guessed that it was Bob King, new president of the United Auto Workers, who also said the “21st century UAW must be fundamentally and radically different from the UAW of the 20th century.”  Wow – kind of striking, isn’t it?  King has noted how union workers and leaders wrestled with Ford execs last year, with the union successfully insisting they together work out bugs in the new (and I might add very cool) Taurus before it was launched. They recognize that without quality they’ve got nothing.

As Tom Walsh of the Free Press wrote over the weekend, this recalibration ain’t all a party.  Brutally tough talks are around the corner between the UAW and Ford, and especially with GM and Chrysler. Those companies, facing bankruptcy and Washington’s intervention, forced deep cuts in jobs (the UAW shed nearly 200,000 members) and salaries (cuts of $7,000 to $30,000 per year). With some rebound, union members will want some recognition for their sacrifices.

We are almost ALL in a period of recalibration, like that which Bob King is leading at the UAW.  For families, companies, and governments at all three levels, the pie has been shrinking, and the golden goose that laid plenty of good-paying  jobs seems to be ailing. Hard negotiations lie ahead for so many of us – certainly for all of us as US citizens, as we ask how to grow the economic pie and how to distribute tax revenues in a way that is sustainable and fair.

Maybe we can all learn from the autos. For the UAW and auto management, it will be so easy to resort to old struggles and win-lose scenarios. We all hope they won’t. In theory the answer is simple; we can’t lose sight of what Bob King and his leaders know: the union must be a partner in growing the pie, constantly improving quality and efficiency. And management must recognize how critical a partner labor is. Some level of fair sharing in profits will be essential.

I’ll bet every reader I have has a judgment – whether conscious or not – about who will need to give or give more –labor or management.  I expect I will hear from the truly angry-against-labor crowd and maybe some angry lefties. But, wait!!!! I want to suggest two opportunities for practice here: (1) We should all fight to avoid the zero-sum game in the first-place. The key is for us all to work together on shared objectives – greater innovation, competitiveness, efficiency, and fair returns.  (2) Ideologies can really get in the way, whether the knee-jerk laisezz-fairians or the knee-jerk socialists (and I mean people who call themselves socialists, not those being plastered with the broad brush so in fashion these days).

Ideology is simple, but the devil is always in the details, and emerges from genuine dialog, instead of harsh positioning. Finding a balance between higher wages vs. lowering a company’s debt is no easy choice: it demands patience, rationality, and probably some risk-taking to build trust (whether with Wall Street and/or with working people). All the vitriol we’re seeing in this time of scarcity isn’t helping much at all. The autos of 2010 aren’t the companies of Harry Bennett’s union busting madmen, and the unions aren’t controlled by communists trying to siphon every last dollar of profit.  We can help, just as we can help Washington, by dialing down the rhetoric, and helping people talk about the truly hard choices and how to fairly and intelligently make them.

We can probably all stand to open our minds and keep gunning to seek first to understand and to achieve win-wins, as through hard times, we

Lead with our best selves,


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  • “Union Leadership” = oxymoron. Historically, at least in my lifetime, where I’ve worked both as aTeamster and as an UAW member, the leadership were bedfellows with the Mob. Nothing has changed today, just look at the continued malfeasance related to pension funds. the only difference between the Union bosses and the Mob is that today, the Mob is the U.S.Gov’t. BHO has realized that in order to move this country into his desired United Socialist States of America status, he needs the union rank and file votes. Thus,a $165 Billion dollar bailout of the Union pension funds is in the works. Here is a link to an article regarding this egregious matter, yet another move by Obama to replace capitalism with totalitarianism: campaign=0f04fd8b21-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_ medium=email

    Dan, your ideologies spoken appear to be nothing more than a ‘rose tinted glasses’ skewed view of reality, or more accurately, a cover-up for reality. Ridding Washington, D.C. of folks who lie and cheat, steal and destroy is what is an absolute necessity…..coming to you (and yours) in November. Also, could you ask Mr. President to resign, effective immediately, in the name of restoration of America.

  • Readers,

    Note how nearly every single sentence Mark writes is filled with assumptions. Most – like the opener – are inflammatory, accusational: “mob, skewed, cover-up (the latter two about me personally 🙂 ) lie, cheat, steal, destroy.” All words that Mark has chosen. As my friend Ellen Weber would, I believe, say these have a tendency to wash about amigdalas – the primitive part of our brain – with the chemicals of fight and flight.

    So, he offers a wonderful object lesson. How do we deal with people and conversations that are filled with the very vitriol I discussed.

    How do we seek a tone that is designed to learn around tough issues?

    This is a daily struggle for me, and I am extremely open to others’ insight.

    Is it possible to engage someone like Mark who seems to not hear, accept, or at least engage with facts that don’t fit his view – in this case the words of Bob King?

    Open to your thoughts – including yours Mark.


  • As a person in the political trenches, I greatly appreciate that there is someone still writing with good reasoning, facts, analysis, and searching with little prejudice.

    People who insult unions or any identifiable group are pure and simple bigots, prejudiced against a group for the faults of some members of a group. Any group can be demonized, or made out as fools.

    I can think of a political youth group founded to look like it is Republican, but is really to promote the most extreme far right candidates, whether in primiaries or general elections; the youth are not encourage to think about candidates and issues, but told which one is most “conservative,” and sent to work for that candidate. The extreme far right makes most others out to be fools. One word “liberal,” seems to answer everything. If it is wrong, it is “liberal.” It does not matter if it is unions or political parties, the same name calling and lack of respect for facts is used. Mind games and obstructionism . . . . .

    The idea you give above about the union workers participating in making the product better is similar, but opposite, now the worker instead of bieing treated like a cog in the wheel, is set to thinking. When I have supervised, I introduce new employees to me by saying, “You are allowed to think. If you can find a better way to do something, do it, and tell me about it, so I know how we are doing things.” When you say something like that you have to accept the consequences, bite your tongue at times, and accept that the benefits far outweigh the not so common unusual results.

  • Example….or assumption? (preface; I grew up as neighbors to the Hoffa family). Was Jimmy Hoffa removed from life on Earth or is he vacationing on some remote south Pacific island? I’m assuming he did not do as the mobsters dictated with respect to pension funds loan sharking, and paid with his life. Some things never change, except the players.

    Dan, do you care to respond direcly to this $165 billion union pension fund bailout? I’m interested in your reasoning for more rewards for malfeasance/misappropriation.

  • Author Sarah Anderson’s latest research reviewed the top 50 US companies and compared CEO pay to worker permanent layoff numbers, “Executive Excess 2010; CEO Pay and the Great Recession.” Anderson boils it all down by saying, “Most careful analysts of the high-finance meltdown that ushered in the Great Recession have concluded that excessive executive compensation played a prime causal role.”

    From 11/1/08 – 4/1/10 and based on actual IRS Tax returns and US Dept of Labor data: those CEO’s pay checks were 263 times the average compensation of American worker’s. 42 percent more than CEO’s pay average for S&P 500 companies.

    During this time period these 50 CEO’s authorized the 531,363 American workers fired, while these 50 CEO’s averaged $11,977,128 pay for themselves and together these 50 CEO’s combined personal pay totaled $598,856,381.

    The facts demonstrate not much of a balance really exists between labor’s pain and management’s gain: Ford CEO Alan Mullally’s pay in 2009 was $17,916,645 while UAW lost 4,700 members, GM CEO Frederick Henderson’s pay $5,446,000 while UAW lost 75,733 members, Caterpillar’s CEO James W. Owens’ pay was $6,764,531 while UAW lost 27,499 members.

    Of the 50 layoff leading companies, only two reported paying corporate income tax in 2009 at the 35 percent statutory rate. Hewlett-Packard, under recently fired CEO Mark Hurd, remitted $47 million in federal corporate income tax, a mere 2 percent of the company’s reported pretax domestic net income. HP’s federal tax bill came to just twice CEO Hurd’s $24.2 million pay package.

    Harry Bennett would be pleased as CEOs rejoice and Walter Philip Reuther would be deeply saddened that today’s American working men and women could have been so fooled into believing the housing bubble caused it all!

  • Globalization in general is good….but many are questioning whether it is good for ordinary wage-earning people.

    The bottom line is globalization is not working for everyone……especially for overpaid factory workers in the U.S.

    Stagnating wages and rising job insecurity in developed countries have created popular disenchantment with the free movement of goods, capital and people across borders. That has hurt industrialization here in the U.S. and certainly reduced the amount of Michigan factory workers over the last decade.

    The problem is that workers in the West aren’t equipped for today’s pace of change, in which jobs come and go and skills can quickly become redundant. Here in Southeastern Michigan the structural changes happening within the automotive industry make unemployed workers think of themselves as the canary in the mineshaft.

    UAW leadership needs to help its members perceptions to evolve and governmental support programs, like retraining workers who lose their jobs, can help people who are suffering from globalization.

  • Based on Mark’s volcanic eruption it is fair to conclude that the acceptance of logic and truth about the totality of the economic situation today is something he will never recognize regardless of the simplistic clarity of facts. I don’t belive there is enough space or interst by readers of this blog to allow me the opportunity to opine on why we arrived at where we are in this state and country regarding the social and economic chaos we are experiencing.

    Obscene and voracious greed, fiendish and malicious dishonesty, unrelenting and quenchless hate are now the ideals many of our populace have been brainwashed to promote, welcome and strive for as an avenue to a successful life coupled with politically poisonous and tyrannous power that gradually surfaces as a fringe benefit of this indoctrination.
    Regarding CEO Pay, Brian Dickerson wrote a column in the Sunday Detroit Free Press which is certaily worth reading. Better late than never. The Ann Arbor news in at least several articles wrote about this topic several years ago.

  • Thank you Dan for doing the heavy lifting with your most recent piece that merely seeks a dialogue between labor and management in our perfect economic storm. A struggle that began well before the Great Depression of the 1930s and obviously continues at this moment. History’s benefit of hindsight shows us, as it turns out that daily events don’t just happen but really develop over the decades. The overwhelming advantage went to corporate involvement like Standard Oil then and Koch, Inc. today. America’s working men and women formed the UAW, et al, to fight back but with the advent of merger and acquisition, coupled with off-shore manufacturing via tax incentives and false media 24/7 our present is looking more like the past. The power of big money’s greed is what it is all about as the billionaires responsible hide their puppet master’s talents kept well below the radar screen.

    Yesterday, I suggested reading the latest offering from author Sarah Anderson’s research that reviewed the top 50 US companies and compared CEO pay to worker permanent layoff numbers, “Executive Excess 2010; CEO Pay and the Great Recession.”

    Merely as a post script I would also strongly suggest reading Jane Mayer’s article appearing in the New Yorker, August 30, 2010 edition called, “Covert Operations.”

    Both writings help put the puzzle together and demonstrate cause and effect as to how our lives are manipulated on the macro economic, political level today and are perhaps about to lead to disaster in the November 2010 elections a short 8 weeks away.

    David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”

    Read more

  • Many people who speak vitriol start off from a decent enough basis. In Michigan, the Union was a valuable movement for worker’s rights, part of the larger civil rights movement in general and something that was necessary. Over time, the federal government has taken over the tasks of maintaining workplace safety and guaranteeing workers’ rights, and states have taken over the work of maintaining decent wages. Considering that these were originally the premises of the unions, I can understand how they feel jaded that their task is done and the need for their community is over, but that should only be amongst their members who didn’t understand that it was a task orientation to begin with, not an everlasting, ongoing thing. But problematically? Most of their members *need* something long-lasting and secure, and the Union stands in for that in their lives, so they don’t *want* it to go away even if its day is done.

    What should be happening? The companies should be *willing* to pay decent wages without having to be leveraged into it. What happens, by the way, when the needed leverage is too great due to the weight of what’s being asked of the companies? Instead of leaving the companies, which would be analogous to the lever breaking, more power is put at the near end where the workers are, but there is a finite base of Union membership to begin with, so who do you think ends up taking the workload on their bags? It isn’t even the workers, let alone the union. People in all sorts of communities, all sorts of situations, end up taking up the slack when the union pushes the companies too hard. Remember I wrote that the state workers, unionized or not, have a given task that needs doing but only insofaras it’s within the capabilities of the state budget to pay them to complete that task or for the administration to find the wherewithal to purpose that task in the first place? Well what do you think happens when the unionized state workers, no longer needed nor their positions affordable, insist that they have a right to continue to have a job, especially at the higher wages they demand in this recession? The burden falls, unnecessarily, on the taxpayers. There’s a different between a position we need filled and one we don’t, and you understand that well enough. Your wife understands that well enough, and demonstrated what I consider to be prudence in a difficult situation by taking a pay cut and challenging the legislature to follow-up. They didn’t; some people don’t meet the challenges they are supposed to, we all know that. The unions — don’t. They had an era, but it’s not worth holding onto out of sentimentality or jadedness. Look what happens due to all that: the companies throw up their hands and would rather deal with people in an entirely different country than stick around here and deal with people in this state. That ultimately reflects on the people who ran the companies off, not the companies themselves. It’s their business to run the way they need to.

    Now as I said, companies should be *willing* to pay decent wages, but look around. In the midst of all this shareholding, and renegotiating the terms of management, how much are workers really making compared to the net income of companies? Executives are frankly still making too much, living the only excessive lives in a country that currently can’t afford for every person to be excessive and won’t benefit from it. They’ve already proven that their investments aren’t any more sound than the average person’s. We’ve been fleeced by their brokers numerous times already, while their private purchases aren’t exactly keeping the rest of us afloat. Local economies are falling apart and I keep hearing about the wealthy investing in exotic locations. People are investing in China and saying it’s helping Michigan, and so on. We all know that the Chinese they’re hiring aren’t working under the auspices of Constitutional Rights. What should it mean to us that companies have gone over to that? That they’re willing to do that, they’re willing to stoop so when they come around the rest of us will feel better kow-towing. They made somebody else subserve, which is what happens when you do more for less notwithstanding, and they expect perhaps we’ll learn by example, empathise, and “learn” to work for noodles. Well they should be *willing* to pay more to their workers. When you’re a gas station clerk you work for $40 a day, and what fraction is that of how much that clerk makes their boss during that shift? Their job is like, priceless, in terms of what they’re used to being able to afford. Shouldn’t they make somewhere near 25% of profits just for keeping the store open? And they don’t, we all know that. Nobody gets paid right, and nobody addresses it.

    The lavish class think it’s funny that the rest of us don’t ask for our fair share. And they go on about it, like it’s philosophy class or something, not like it’s actually happening at all. And I don’t get it when they turn around and make suggestions about how the rest of us could do better for the economy or for our workplace and so on, because it’s like kicking dirt on somebody, and saying they should get some dignity.

    And between the way Michigan Democrats approach the Union issue as if it’s this antique worth preserving, and the way Michigan Republicans approach it like it’s “communism” and “socialism” and “left”, “right”, etc., they’re both totally boggling. But that’s what happens when everybody’s more or less legitimizing in some fashion that they have somebody else speaking for them and doing their business for them and so on. Their investments are all failing to return, what do they expect, nobody they run up to knows heads or tails to make of it, etc., etc.

  • GA Petrie:

    Several observations regarding your comments: First, the states haven’t taken over the responsibility of maintaining decent wages. In most situations that responsibility is and has been the responsibility of labor unions in an environment that allows collective bargaining and historically the Unions have set not only the bar but the floor what others in society are compensated. Second, wages are the product of the environment and industry people are employed in. What our state does is to insure that employees, mostly those who are not unionized, receive the minimum wage provided by law and that an employer pays workers the money and benefits they were promised which is why Michigan’s Labor Department has a Wage and Hour Division to make sure that an employer is in compliance with State and Federal Wage and Hour laws. Third, Unions are as important and necessary today as they were in the twentieth century. This is substantiated by the large numbers of workers who are threatened, intimidated, and have had their hours cut or irregulary scheduled, or simply terminated. In most instances the disadvantaged worker is completely unfamiliar about the benefits of uninization. Last, unions are not driving work out of this country. It is the corporations who would rather abandon people making enough money to get by, and send the work south of the border or to the far East. Anyone reading this blog should remember this last statement when they go shopping for appliances in places like Home Depot who sell Electorlux products made in Mexico that used to be made in Greenville, Michigan until the appliance maker felt they were not making enough money and chose to pay someone in Mexico $1.50 per hour rather than the whopping $13- $15 per hour the company was paying here in the Great Lakes State. Collectively we wave the Flag and emphasize the and stress the importance of Red, White and Blue Patriotism yet somehow deliberately ignore its application when it comes to purchasing goods made in foreign countries when those items were made by our men and women who are no longer working if they had their jobs outsourced for cheap foreign labor. GA you are correct about one point; Companies and Corporations should be willing to pay decent wages and they are in countries like China, India and Mexico. One only has to look at China’s exploding economy and soaring standard of living.

  • Dan,
    Interesting topic guarantied to bring out the best and worst in opinions!
    CEO isn’t that a euphimism for ” Criminal Extorting Others”? I jest slightly, but seriously in a time of recession how can you support a party that in 8 years under GWB left the Federal budget Trillions of Dollars in debt and the economy a shambles?
    I know the USA is a young nation (234 years) but is that any excuse for the climate of political debate to be that of petulant teenagers?
    Surely even the most obscurantant Boss understands that a well paid and well treated employee is a happy one and more likely to work to make the company successful, especially in hard times. A bit of social responsibility on all sides would sure help.
    As the anniversary of 9/11 draws near only history will tell wether it or the 2007/8 Wall Street crooks has left the greatest change in American society.
    On a lighter note Dan, how do you “grow a pie”? Sounds a great way to trim the food bill!


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