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Article published Saturday, December 13, 2008

UAW workers' pay on par with Japanese competitors in U.S.

The question of how much a union assembly-line worker makes for building Chrysler Jeeps in Toledo versus how much a nonunion technician earns for building Honda Accords in Marysville, Ohio, is perplexing the policymakers in Washington.

It's so perplexing that it halted the painstaking negotiations in the U.S. Senate to lend $14 billion to bail out the struggling automakers.

As a prerequisite for the aid to automakers, Senate Republicans demanded that United Auto Workers agree to wage concessions that would cause pay for its assembly-line workers to fall in line by next year with those paid by Japanese companies.

The numbers, however, paint a picture of UAW wages already in line with Japanese competitors building cars in the United States.

"There's a lot of myths out there," said Ed Miller, a spokesman for Honda, which has plants in six states, including Ohio.

"There's some assumptions about our pay and benefits that are just that - they are assumptions," he said.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, in a news conference in Detroit yesterday, accused the Republican senators of engaging in "subterfuge" to stand in the way of a bailout, going so far as to say the GOP wanted to "pierce the heart" of organized labor.

"There were Republicans that wanted to tear down any agreement we came up with," Mr. Gettelfinger said.

During the past month, as the Big Three have pleaded with Congress to loan them millions to bail them out of a financial mess that threatens their survival and as many as 3 million jobs, the UAW repeatedly has been forced to defend the wages earned by its workers and offer concessions to aid the faltering automakers.

In one attempt to dispel rumors about lavish $73-an-hour wages paid to UAW workers, the union released a fact sheet explaining that Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors pay $28 an hour for assemblers and $33 an hour for skilled trades workers. New hires make about $14 an hour, according to the union.

The fact sheet called the notion that UAW workers make $73 per hour "outdated and inaccurate," explaining that figure includes not only health care, pension, and other compensation, but includes the pensions and health-care benefits of retired employees.

"That $73 was not explained very well over the years," Mr. Miller of Honda said.

General Motors says its total hourly costs are $69 an hour - including the pension and health benefits of more than 432,000 retired workers. Toyota, which has fewer retirees and less costly benefit packages, says its total wage costs average $48 an hour.

But based strictly on wages, the $28 an hour paid by Ford, Chrysler, and GM fall in line with their counterparts. Toyota says it pays about $30 an hour, while Honda pays $28.87, and Nissan pays an hourly rate of about $25 an hour.

The $28.87 Honda workers earn includes the base wage of $24.80, plus an attendance bonus of $1.25 for each hour worked, a bonus-sharing program that adds $2.32 per hour, and an earnings payment of 50 cents per hour. Also, Honda workers are offered a competitive health care plan.

At the Jeep plant in Toledo, workers were concerned about the perceptions of what they are paid.

"We haven't had a raise," said Glenn Paisie, 53, of Point Place, a 30-year employee. "We don't get no raises. … We're only making a couple bucks more an hour than the foreign plants down in Georgia. The problem is they don't have any retirees to pay for. That's the biggest problem."

Mr. Paisie noted that new hires at Jeep make about $14 an hour.

"How much lower do you want us to go? I think about it, taking a cut, but you have to understand our bills are up to what we make," he said.

Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the rejection of a bailout is about much more than wages.

"It's not just the wage," said Mr. Lichtenstein, who has written books on the automotive industry and Wal-Mart. "It is the whole ethos of having a career. That's what is at stake here."

Mr. Lichtenstein believes those in the Senate who are demanding new concessions from unions are looking beyond wages and are hoping to wash away the power that the UAW has on the factory floor.

"That's really what these Republicans are asking for," Mr. Lichtenstein said.

Mr. Gettelfinger, during his news conference yesterday, accused Republican senators from the South who blocked passage of the auto-loan bill of doing the bidding of foreign automakers who have located factories in their states.

"They thought perhaps they could have a two-fer here maybe: Pierce the heart of organized labor while representing the foreign brands," Mr. Gettelfinger said.

Mr. Lichtenstein said if the UAW falters, it'll cause the wages for assemblers to fall across the board.

"If the UAW is caught in a total bind, then what will happen is in the South these transplants will start paying Wal-Mart wages," Mr. Lichtenstein said.

Japanese firms such as Honda say they are continuing to pay a wage that's competitive with their Big Three counterparts.

"People who live in communities where there are Honda plants, they know," Mr. Miller said.

"The further you get away you are more likely to not know or get things confused."

There are no Honda plants in or near Washington, where lawmakers are deciding the fate of the U.S. auto industry.

In a statement late Thursday night after talks came to a halt, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) chided Senate Republicans for being out of touch with the "real America."

"Tonight, Senate Republicans, who sometimes observe that all wisdom does not reside in Washington, D.C., decided that they should dictate a labor contract for American autoworkers to replace the one agreed to just last year," Mr. Brown said. "While workers were willing to be part of the solution, they could not and should not shoulder the entire burden."

Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican, supported the bailout and bemoaned its failure, calling on the White House to use other funds to rescue the automakers.

"The politics need to end before more companies fall through the ice," Mr. Voinovich said in a statement. -- UAW workers' pay on par with Japanese competitors in U.S.

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Frustrated auto workers’ fear turns into fury as critical bailout blocked

Frustrated auto workers’ fear turns into fury as critical bailout blocked

DETROIT, Michigan, Dec 13, (AFP): Fear has turned to fury among auto workers frustrated with Republican efforts to block a critical bailout package aimed at rescuing General Motors and Chrysler from almost certain collapse. “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it,” said Erv Miller who has worked for GM for 37 years and is a member of the United Auto Workers union. “I think those Republican senators didn’t care about anything but punishing the UAW.” After weeks of wrangling, a scaled-down package of 14 billion dollars in government-backed loans won approval from both the White House and the House of Representatives. But Republican senators blocked the bill’s passage late Thursday and blamed the union for refusing to bring wages swiftly in line with those paid by foreign automakers. UAW president Ron Gettelfinger accused them of using politically motivated “subterfuge” to undermine both Democrats and the union. Gettelfinger said the union has already done much to bring their compensation levels in line with the non-unionized US plants of foreign competitors and that labor costs were not the major challenge facing automakers anymore. “If we worked for nothing it wouldn’t help them limp into January,” Gettelfinger said at a press conference.

Rank and file workers echoed his frustration with false claims about the supposed gold-plated compensation package given to factory workers. “You want to see my paycheck? I don’t make any $73 per hour,” said Brian Larkin who works at a GM truck plant in Pontiac, Michigan. “People don’t want to listen to the facts.” Pat Hanlon, who now faces an indefinite layoff in February after moving to Michigan when her job at a plant in Indiana was eliminated, is frustrated by the hypocrisy of senators scolding autoworkers over their pay when all 538 members of Congress will get a cost of living raise in January. “I am upset as a taxpayer that they can do this us,” she told AFP. “I just think they’re putting us under a different set of rules than the other companies that have got the money.”

GM and Chrysler have warned they could run out of cash in a matter of weeks if they are not given access to low-cost, government-backed loans. Gettelfinger warned again on Friday that the nation’s highly integrated auto industry would collapse if GM or Chrysler were to fail and said the automakers would likely be liquidated if they were forced into bankruptcy protection.
The legislation would have provided GM and Chrysler bridge loans to operate until March 31, the date by which they must have crafted a restructuring plan that ensures their long-term survival while repaying government aid.
The bill also required the president to name a special designee, or “car czar,” who would oversee the process.
The White House said Friday that it may tap a 700-billion-dollar Wall Street rescue to spare US automakers from an “immediate collapse” that the US economy “could not withstand.”
People at the Pontiac plant are worried about losing their jobs and their homes but they’re even angrier about the way they’ve been characterized by lawmakers, said UAW Local 594 president Doug Bowman.

“The people in our plant work hard every day. They have to work 58 seconds of every minute. They don’t deserve this kind of treatment,” Bowman said.
“I’m angry about it,” he said. “These senators don’t seem to realize that if these companies fail, it’s going to hurt every state in the union,” Bowman said.
Adding to the grim atmosphere was news that GM planned to idle 30 percent of its North American production during the first quarter of 2009.
As the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea went into talks aimed at weathering the downturn, the White House was considering tapping its $700 billion financial aid package for the struggling car industry.
“Because Congress failed to act, we will stand ready to prevent an imminent failure,” Treasury Department spokeswoman Brooklyn McLaughlin said.
A $14 billion auto rescue deal passed the House of Representatives this week but failed in the Senate amid opposition from Republicans, who demanded that US plants’ wages match those at foreign-owned, non-union plants.
Spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to say when a decision would be made on using the finance industry’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) fund, but said the White House understood “the urgency of the situation.”

General Motors meanwhile announced it was idling 30 percent of its North American production “in response to rapidly deteriorating market conditions.”
The troubled auto giant said the action comes in response to an industry-wide 26-percent drop in November vehicle sales and a 41-percent drop for GM.
Fresh data showed US retail sales slumped 1.8 percent against tight credit conditions as consumers cut back on their spending in the face of large losses in jobs and wealth.
However, a breakthrough was made in Brussels as EU leaders sealed an agreement for the$ 260 billion plan designed to dig the bloc out of recession.
The stimulus plan will see members pump on average the equivalent of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product into their economies in a bid to spark them back into growth.

“Everybody absolutely agrees on the gravity of the crisis,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said. “Everybody agrees on the need for a stimulus plan.”
The deal was struck as Spanish banking giant Santander said it would slash 1,900 jobs at its three British subsidiaries next year to cut costs, a day after US-based Bank of America announced cuts of up to 35,000 jobs worldwide.
In Asia, leaders of China, Japan and South Korea were set for a rare joint summit with the economic crisis at the top of the agenda.
Host Japan said it hopes the summit will study expanding the Chiang Mai Initiative, a system of currency swaps set up in 2000 to protect Asia from regional financial turmoil.
The joint summit of the three countries — which together account for three-quarters of Asia’s gross domestic product — is their first, other than shorter three-way meetings on the sidelines of international meetings.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso hosts South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the southwestern Japanese prefecture of Fukuoka, where Aso’s wealthy family comes from.
On the eve of the summit, South Korea announced an increase totalling almost $45 billion in its currency swaps with China and Japan as it looked to protect its won currency from massive selling pressure in the global crisis.
Also on Friday, Japan’s Aso announced a new 23 trillion yen ($255 billion) injection that will take government revival efforts to more than $550 billion since October.
“This is a great global recession which comes once in 100 years,” Aso said. “But by taking appropriate measures without any delay, we can minimize the impact.”
Arab Times :: Frustrated auto workers’ fear turns into fury as critical bailout blocked
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