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I once proudly worked for Chrysler Corporation as did many of my family and friends back in Detroit. I remember all the pitfalls--the UAW demands; safety issues; predominant everyday grievances, etc. That was back in the early 1970's.
When I first walked into the Eldon Gear & Axle plant on Lynch Road there in Detroit, I felt I had just stepped 30 years into the past; into a Twilight Zone of sorts. It was a huge awakening for an 18 year old. It was dark, dreary, and hardcore. I was given standard provisions (like boot camp); the safety glasses; the earplugs; the plastic coated yellow gloves (for which I still have discoloration on my knuckles from breaking in a new pair everyday); and protective boots (they called my department "the swamp").
Once I saw the conditions men and women alike were working in, I could see why there was such a strong push for union solidarity. Ironically, the first nine months on the job while I was paying union dues, our local union was in receivership, and the shop stewards were virtually powerless and ineffective. During that time, I got along well with my company superiors, and was eager to produce a hard day of work in exchange for a hard day's pay.
Then one day as I was going about my daily routine, I was moving one of the empty steel crates used to pack the rear axle shafts I was de-burring, and a shop steward walked up to me and said, "Young man, that is not in your job description...you need to call a hi-lo (forklift) driver to move that crate for you." Puzzled, I said, "But I'm only moving it two feet over...", and he said, "That doesn't matter...it's still outside of your job description."
That was something I never understood. It was like the union had just as much power as the company executives, even though the union officials were on the same payroll as the average workers. Many workers took license and it was like a badge of honor to get away with doing less and less for more and more pay and benefits (sorry folks, but I have to tell it like I saw it).
Now we see the president of the UAW seated next to the Big Three executives during the congressional bailout hearings. It's as if he's demanding parasite rights, not realizing that the whole chunk of cheese is about to go away! The union is part of the problem; they are negotiating concessions to the so-called job bank; guarantees of 95 percent pay to laid off workers; lifetime retirement benefits; and the list goes on. But here's something to think about--no manufacturer; no jobs; no benefits in the least!! The cheese is moving people! Get a grip! Did you think the paradigm of yesteryear would last forever? Haven't you been paying attention to why the foreign competitors are being so successful? They have no unions, but they have happy and productive workers who still by and large have jobs!
The Big Three unions are biting the hand that feeds them. They have expected the American automakers to be employer on the one hand; and the Department of Social Services on the other.
I am for the government bailout of the Big Three because of the domino ramifications brought on by years and years of acquiescence, but that fourth wheel called "union" needs to be put in check if the Big Three expect to get the most out of the bailout monies if granted, and to be able to compete with foreign automakers.
Larry Buford, a freelance writer, is a native Detroiter now residing in Los Angeles. He is the author of "Things Are Gettin' Outta Hand" (Lifevest Pub.) www.amazon.com. Visit the author at www.editorialbylarry.com (213) 220-8101