It is understandable that new UAW President Bob King has his own agenda. And it was predictable that his members would want to recoup benefits they gave up to help save the Detroit 3 -- and their own jobs.
But when the next round of collective bargaining rolls around in 2011, labor and management must be wary of agreements that would forfeit cost savings and competitive advantages forged through last year's restructurings.
It could be tricky for King.
At the union's convention in Detroit this month, King heard UAW members call for a push to take back wages and benefits relinquished when the Detroit 3 automakers and their suppliers struggled to survive.
Especially vocal were Ford workers, who said they were willing to fight to regain benefits. Ford, which was able to restructure without Chapter 11, now seems healthier and more profitable. Unlike workers at General Motors and Chrysler, Ford workers last autumn refused concessions, including a no-strike clause. That makes Ford a likely lightning rod for worker demands.
To some, King's early statements as head of the UAW may have made him seem like an unreconstructed labor leader from a bygone era. King's support for what he calls global social justice, his desire to restore worker sacrifices, his initiative to enlarge the UAW by organizing nonautomotive industries and his renewed campaign to organize transplant automakers -- especially Toyota -- brought howls from some quarters.
But King is a savvy, modern labor leader who understands the need for workers and managers to collaborate in the workplace, no matter what is said across the bargaining table or for political purposes in public forums.
His plan for UAW members to "adopt" and picket local Toyota dealerships to force Toyota to bargain with its U.S. workers probably won't achieve much. But it shows the resolve of a determined, veteran union organizer with a flair for street theater and publicity.
Because of his age -- 63 -- and the union's mandatory retirement age of 65, King likely will lead the union through only one round of bargaining with the Detroit 3. But it will be an important year.
King has said the union doesn't want to create competitive disadvantages for any employer with which it bargains. His leadership must set the tone in 2011.