The United Auto Workers top leadership is facing a potential rebellion over the issue of the two-tier wage system approved for Detroit automakers, which has become a potent symbol of the union’s steady decline.
The two-tier wages were initially approved by the UAW in some contracts signed in the late 1990s but only entered the union’s critical contracts with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in 2003. The scope of the second-tier wage program was dramatically expanded in 2007 when union negotiators accepted the rationale promoted first by GM than by Chrysler that it would permit the companies to hire new workers and become more competitive against Japanese transplants.
The acceptance of the two-tier wage agreement four years ago also represented the tacit acknowledgement by union negotiators of the downward pressure asserted by non-union transplants in the Southeast. Some of the newest plants — such as the Volkswagen facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee that opened this year – are paying barely $15 in combined wages and benefits, fraction of what workers earn in Detroit.
Detroit’s Big Three say they need to match those lowerlabor costs to be competitive — but domestic workers insisting they’re not getting a “living wage,” and could make it difficult to negotiate new contracts in the weeks ahead.