At this week’s UAW bargaining convention, delegate after delegate rose to a microphone to pillory the Detroit 3 for Tier 2 excesses, stingy wages and, in the case of General Motors, a dubious $5 billion stock buyback to placate Wall Street investors.
I thought the affair was pretty darn raucous.
Not hardly, according to a retired UAW executive, who asked to go nameless. He saw the convention as positively tame.
“Why?” I asked. Because rank-and-file anger this year was being directed at the car companies instead of UAW leadership.
That’s a big change from the union’s previous two bargaining conventions and one that could portend trouble in this year’s Detroit 3 contract talks, which unofficially began with the convention.
In 2007, workers were angry about the advent of a lower, entry-level pay scale, called Tier 2, in auto plants and were wary of retiree health care being shifted from the Detroit 3 to an independent trust known as the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association.
They aimed their displeasure during the convention at UAW leadership.
In 2011, UAW delegates were told by union leadership to cool their expectations for another four years until the industry had healed. Again, that wait to recover some of the sacrifices made during the ugly 2007-09 recession did not sit well with the membership.
So here we are. Veteran workers have not had a pay increase in 10 years. Tier 2 wages have taken root. They now cover 29 percent of the 137,000 total hourly workers at the Detroit 3.
UAW workers want Tier 2 either rolled back or eliminated. They also want a bigger share of the giant North American profits being generated by each of the Detroit 3.
I doubt it’s a coincidence that the tagline on the convention resolution book states: “It’s our time.”
Why not? If GM can afford to raid $5 billion from its “fortress balance sheet” to buy back stock to benefit investors, it certainly can afford to pay the people who build its products, the delegates argue.
Yes, Mary Barra, the rank-and-file noticed.
They also were reminded time and again about the outsized compensation being paid executives at the Detroit 3 and across America. Ford CEO Mark Fields earned $18.6 million in 2014.
Taken together, the UAW exited the convention and headed for negotiations more unified than at any time in the past eight years, with clear goals and targets.
They have met their adversary. And, at least this time around, it ain’t union leadership.