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Name-calling won’t change King or the facts

David Barkholz covers IT and labor for Automotive News.
New UAW President Bob King made several bold declarations during Thursday’s inauguration at the UAW national convention in Detroit.

He is determined to organize Toyota in the United States. He’ll picket Toyota dealerships to prompt that change. And he plans to raise the union’s profile in the fight for social and economic justice.

His assertions elicited the usual response from readers. “Dinosaurs,” “thugs” and “parasites” were some of the nicer names that union leadership was called.

But here are two points to chew on the next time you’re compelled to accuse UAW-represented factory workers of being recalcitrant, overpaid loafers bent on destroying the domestic auto industry:

• Hourly workers at the Detroit 3 have had as much to do as management in recent vehicle quality improvements that resulted this week in the Detroit 3’s averaging fewer problems in initial quality than their nondomestic rivals.

• New hires at the Detroit 3 -- and there will be many as industry sales improve -- earn $14 an hour under a Tier 2 wage that King was instrumental in crafting in the 2007 contracts. For an employee working straight time, without overtime, that equates to $29,120a year. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $22,050 and $29,530 for a family of six.

King rightly is proud of the former point, and not so of the latter. At a press conference Thursday, he conceded that $29,120 a year is not a livable wage for a family, nor consistent with his vision of economic justice. But as a realist, that’s the best the union could do given the Detroit 3’s precarious financial state in recent years.

Today, overall Detroit 3 wages and benefits are right in step with those of Toyota, Honda and other nonunion competitors in the United States at about $55 an hour combined.

As the companies continue to show profits, King said he would like to try to get back some of the concessions made in the past three years and improve on that initial Tier 2 wage.

I don’t think that makes him a dinosaur, thug or parasite. I think that’s what his constituents expect.

Author’s disclosure: My now-deceased father worked for nearly 40 years as a UAW-represented electrician at General Motors assembly plants in Detroit.

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