Not the ol' union hall -- it's the UAW's internal debate on Facebook

Automotive News | October 21, 2011 - 4:13 pm EST

To read the “UAW Chrysler Talks” Facebook page is to peer into the hearts and minds of union members agonizing very publicly over their hopes and fears for the future.

It makes for some fascinating reading because these debates were formerly confined to the union hall and factory floor. Emotions are running high, and livelihoods are at stake.

Anxiety has grown during the last couple of days as several plants have voted against the proposed Chrysler-UAW agreement, which gives Chrysler workers less than their General Motors and Ford peers received. If Chrysler workers vote against the contract, their future will be in the hands of an arbitrator because of a no-strike clause.

As fears of a thumbs-down vote have grown, the UAW Chrysler Talks Web site administrator has been very busy indeed trying to soothe anxious workers, many of whom are still wrestling with their voting decisions.

You can almost feel the administrator straining to keep up with the sheer volume of comments -- 25 of them after one posting this morning -- and to be patient as he/she tries to explain, yet again, that yes, the union negotiated the best deal it could, and that no, the union is not hiding any details of the contract from its members.

Here are some samples with punctuation and spelling left as posted, but with names removed:

Wrote one poster, referring to the Republican governors of Wisconsin and Michigan: “Forget the Scott Walkers and Rick Snyders and republicans of the world.. we're busting our own Union! CUT IT OUT!! VOTE YES on this contract!”

Another poster, claiming to be a Ford worker, wrote: “From a Ford Motor Co employee...Vote yes people do not commit suicide..There is time to recover..Voting no and handing this situation to an arbitrator is suicide I guarantee”

Someone responded by telling the Ford worker to butt out of Chrysler workers’ affairs.

Some workers want the union to return to bargaining to wring more concessions out of Chrysler. Wrote one: “if you go back to the table can you put the seniority issue and attendance policy back on the table too?!?!”

To which the UAW Chrysler Talks administrator replied: “There is no going back to the table.”

On Thursday, some locals started to post the results of their voting. The site administrator took the results down, explaining that no further results would be posted until all votes are cast.

This move led some posters to doubt the union was being fully transparent. The union finds itself in the same spot as TV networks calling presidential elections before the polls have closed on the West Coast. It will be interesting to see if all the Facebook give-and-take affects the outcome at those locals that have not yet voted.

The union also urged members to remember that journalists are monitoring the page, and that their opinions could be reported by media outlets, for better or worse. One poster urged her colleagues to be careful about what they were saying: “The world is watching and we are looking more like cry babies who are ungrateful.”

The whole world can indeed watch this very unruly experiment in Facebook-style democracy. The union hall isn’t just across the street from the plant anymore; it’s right there on your smartphone.

Bradford Wernle is a reporter for Automotive News.Bradford Wernle is a reporter for Automotive News.

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