Many stories have been told about DaimlerChrysler contractors using foreign workers, mainly from Poland, to help enlarge the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama.
I'm reminded of all the positive publicity that Henry Ford received when he adopted $5 a day for his employees in 1914. Ford Motor Co. was lauded for its forward-thinking policies.
But just 23 years later, that same Henry Ford sent Harry Bennett to meet some protesters outside the Rouge plant. Everyone knows what happened. Four years after that, in 1941, Ford Motor Co. signed its first contract with the UAW.
It won't surprise me if it's not too many months before the UAW represents Mercedes' Alabama plant.
A dozen non-Big 3 plants are building cars and trucks in the United States. It started with Honda; and now the rest of the Japanese, the Germans and the Koreans all have or are planning to have plants in North America.
They have been very careful to pick locations in states with right-to-work laws, and they have been extremely careful to make sure that their workers are treated as well as or better than those in plants represented by the UAW.
That's why it seems so surprising that Mercedes and DaimlerChrysler would do something as ill-advised as using construction subcontractors who pay their workers about $1,000 a month. It says far too much about the company and what it envisions for its Alabama plant.
Unfortunately, the Alabama Mercedes workers will understand what it means as well.
It is remarkable that only two current auto plants (Mazda and Mitsubishi) built in this country by the Japanese or Germans have been unionized.
The UAW has conducted several strong organizational drives to unionize other plants, but they all have failed badly. The most recent attempt by the UAW to organize the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., was a severe embarrassment to the UAW.
Several states in the South and mid-South have right-to-work laws that make it more difficult for the UAW to organize workers. But it looks like DaimlerChrysler has given the UAW a golden opportunity that won't come along very often.
The miscue happens right in the middle of Chrysler group-UAW negotiations for a new contract. It will make the negotiating with Chrysler unique among the Big 3 since the UAW undoubtedly will try to include the Alabama plant within the Chrysler contract.
It's going to be an interesting autumn for the Chrysler group. And DaimlerChrysler brought it on itself.