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UAW Strongly Objects to GM’s U.S. Factory Closings

Negotiation deadlock spills over into public lobbying by union.

by on May.18, 2009

Kevin Melton, UAW Local 602, courtesy UAW

The implication is the Auto Task Force has told the union the closings will proceed.

With the 31 May deadline approaching for GM’s revised plan, the United Autoworkers Union on Friday sent a letter to members of the U.S. Congress objecting to the centerpiece of GM’s Viability plan – closing 16 plants in the U.S. and importing vehicles from low-wage, non-unionized countries.

The factory closings are not new, they have been in various versions of the plan since GM went to the U.S. government for bridge loans late, last year, but in bringing the argument over the closings public, the union is attempting to prevent some of them through political pressure after apparently being shut down at the bargaining table. The implication is that the Auto Task Force has told the union that the closings will proceed.

Alan Reuther, UAW Legislative Director, wrote Congress that “As the discussions continue concerning the restructuring of General Motors, the UAW wishes to restate our strong opposition to the company’s plan to close 16 manufacturing facilities in the United States, while at the same time dramatically increasing the number of vehicles it will be importing from Mexico, Korea, Japan and China for sale in this country. We urge Members of Congress to join with the UAW in urging the Obama administration to insist, as part of any further government assistance, that GM should be required to maintain the maximum number of jobs in the U.S., instead of outsourcing more production to these other countries.”

The Chrysler restructuring plan now being worked out in bankruptcy court in New York City also closes U.S. factories and turns the company over to off-shore based Fiat. The factory closings, though, are smaller in number and the small cars and engines that will be supplied by Fiat will be built in the U.S., Canada or Mexico. Furthermore, by getting access to Fiat’s overseas distribution system, exports of Canadian or U.S. made vehicles could increase, preserving or creating UAW jobs.

Subscribe to TheDetroitBureau.comThe core issue the union is raising – U.S. jobs — is an aspect of industrial policy debates that politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties have ducked for decades. With unemployment at record levels and increasing, our lack of industrial policy is glaringly obvious. Every major nation in the world has policies, laws, tariffs and non-tariff regulations that protect jobs and encourage the export of goods and services into the large, profitable and unrestricted U.S. market.   

U.S. employment continued to decline in April as another 539,000 jobs evaporated to total 13.7 million out of work people, and the unemployment rate rose from 8.5% to 8.9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since the recession began in December 2007, 5.7 million jobs have been lost. In April, job losses were large and widespread across nearly all major private-sector industries. Overall, private-sector employment fell by 611,000. Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has risen by 6.0 million, and the unemployment rate has grown by 3.9 percentage points. 

Under the mantra of globalizing Free Trade, which neither is free nor without dire consequences for the middle class in the U.S. as the current Great Recession has proved, industry after industry here has been targeted by overseas firms and governments and then attacked. Steel, radios, television, consumer electronics, computers, aircraft, appliances, and of course automobiles, to name just a few, are now largely dominated by overseas industries that ship products into the U.S. and create jobs overseas. It’s a one-way street to poverty for U.S. citizens, critics maintain.

GM’s Viability Plan closes 16 plants in this country, including four final assembly plants, causing the loss of 21,000 jobs, before secondary losses commence at its suppliers. (This is about the same number of jobs the UAW has lost at Chrysler during the last two years.) GM is planning to increase the number of vehicles that it will be importing from Mexico, Korea, Japan and China from 371,547 to 736,743 during the next four years. The UAW says this is a 98% increase in the vehicles it will be importing from these countries.

The UAW wants job guarantees, which puts the Obama Administration in a difficult position, since it is maintaining that the restructuring plan the Auto Task Force is insisting on will preserve jobs, and eventually lead to job creation. This is of course the same claim that  “free traders” make, many of them academics with guaranteed tenured positions, that some jobs will be lost  to “displacement” but overall more will eventually be created, an assertion that is tough to defend in the current environment.

“We urge Members of Congress to join with the UAW in urging the Obama administration to insist, as part of any further government assistance, that GM should be required to maintain the maximum number of jobs in the U.S., instead of outsourcing more production to these other countries,” said Reuther.

“The UAW believes Congress and the Obama administration should insist that GM change its restructuring plan. If GM is going to receive government assistance to facilitate its restructuring, along with substantial benefits from the tremendous sacrifices by UAW active and retired members and other stakeholders, we believe it should be required to maintain the maximum number of jobs in the U.S., instead of outsourcing more production to countries where the vehicles will have little or no U.S. content,” Reuther concluded.

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2 Responses to “UAW Strongly Objects to GM’s U.S. Factory Closings”

  1. Craig Campbell says:

    Maybe the UAW should of thought of this becoming an eventual reality some time in the past few decades when they demanded more and more from GM, Ford, and Chrysler every time it was time for a new contract. The wage and benefit package that the UAW demanded and got is WAY beyond ridiculous considering it is largely unskilled labor we’re talking about here. When a plant worker makes more than double to tighten the same bolt all day long (a job a monkey can be trained to do) than a mechanic who has to be skilled enough to diagnose what is wrong with a vehicle and fix it, that is greed of biblical proportions. While I hate to see anybody lose their job, the UAW employees are actually getting EXACTLY what they deserve because they finally managed to kill the golden geese.

    • Ken Zino says:

      Well, that is all in the past, now. The UAW is a very different organization as a result of the financial crisis and collapse of the global economy. We’ll see going forward how it plays out.