The just-completed four-year U.S. labor agreements between the UAW and Detroit 3 generated little enthusiasm. They barely got by UAW members. UAW leadership had to renegotiate at Fiat Chrysler, override a skilled-trades rejection at General Motors and then plead for a "yes" vote at the last major Ford Motor local voting on the deal.
Neither management nor labor got all they wanted. But the overall U.S. auto industry got what it most needed.
Negotiators charted a course to end the worst aspects of the two-tier wage system. The path is imperfect by any measure. It will take eight years before newly hired Tier 2 workers reach maximum wages, which means the schedule must be renewed in the next round of contracts four years from now. It excludes some current workers at each of the three automakers. And it authorizes hiring more temporary workers who aren't represented by the UAW.
But on the whole, it's better than not finding a way out of the basic inequity of perpetuating a two-wage system. Both sides had to achieve a solution before an extreme cost-cutting solution adopted during a deep recession hardened into a permanent state of discrimination against newer workers.
Beyond that, the contracts cover the basics for automakers and UAW members. Automakers controlled long-term labor costs. Union members got raises, some for the first time in a decade. With more flexibility, Detroit automakers are more competitive on labor costs compared to transplants and importers, and they have more leeway on hiring and shifting auto production within North America.
Both sides managed to negotiate deals that met their biggest specific needs while avoiding costly strikes. That's about the most either can expect.
But the best result from the three separate rounds of labor agreements was successfully finding a path to wage parity. Ultimately, eliminating pay inequity is a victory for the entire U.S. auto industry.