DAVID BARKHOLZ

Chrysler-UAW talks start wrapped in the American flag… But why?

The UAW and Chrysler leaderships dressed the same for today's official launch of negotiations. Photo credit: Reuters

DETROIT -- UAW and Chrysler contract negotiators wrapped themselves in an American flag at this morning's formal kickoff of auto talks.

Predictably, it wasn't pretty. In fact, it was unseemly.

There was UAW President Bob King loudly suggesting that his 23,000 hourly members at Chrysler won't get a raise during this year's negotiations because "we collectively feel we have a huge responsibility to the American public" by keeping Chrysler's labor costs competitive.

Bob, your responsibility under the UAW constitution is to the members who elected you president. As you know, those 113,000 members at Chrysler, General Motors and Ford Motor Co. haven't had a pay raise since 2003. That means they have been going backward, way backward, to inflation over that time.

If they don't get a raise during this four-year go-around, that would make 12 years without one.

Chrysler's lead negotiator, Al Iacobelli, couldn't resist the "we're doing it for America" talking point, either.

"Approximately 25 months ago we emerged from a very painful restructuring of the industry," Iacobelli said.

"We recognize collectively that we have a responsibility to preserve the dignity of our competitiveness … and we have a responsibility to the American public as well as the Canadian government for their support in the process."

A lofty sentiment, sure. But, again, a big smoke screen.

Al, you are fully aware that Chrysler's responsibility in these talks is to your dominant shareholder: Fiat.

Chrysler already thanked me and the other millions of American and Canadian taxpayers by paying back in May that $7.6 billion in loans you took. Whatever you save on labor costs from here on out accrues to you.

Please leave me out of the equation. I don't have a horse in this race.

The matching outfits worn by the two sides at the kickoff, maroon windbreakers and black pants, were symbolic of a collaborative attitude. They were precious.

The American-flag accent went too far.

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