The UAW's Rubble: The Ailing Union Picks a New King as UAW Staff Has Contract Driven Down Their Throats

It hasn’t been called the Union of Ailing Workplaces for nothing.

The UAW.  The once-mighty auto workers union has become something of a joke, a pitiful shadow of its former self, taking government handouts and trying to unionize anyone that breathes, from graduate students to casino dealers.

The fact is, nothing the union has tried has seemed to work to reverse its free fall into oblivion. 

UAW’s Failures Outweigh Successes

In its own industry, the UAW has tried and failed to unionize plants owned by Toyata, Nissan and BMW.

When it attempted to do an end-run around workers right to vote at Dana Corp., its tactics created a backlash from Dana’s workers.

In 2007, the UAW began a campaign to unionize casino dealers in Atlantic City, NJ and elsewhere only to fail (so far) to get contracts for any of the workers it unionized.  In fact, its weapon of choice in the auto industry–the strike–has proven to be nothing more than a pea shooter in New Jersey’s rough and tumble casino industry as the casinos readied to replace the UAW dealers if they struck over the summer.

“We take their threats seriously,” said J. Carlos Tolosa, the company’s eastern regional president. “There are 14,000 employees in Atlantic City who rely on Harrah’s for their livelihood, and we are not going to let the misguided tactics of the UAW interfere with our guests or the employees who are working hard to keep Atlantic City competitive this summer.”

Even the UAW’s one notable success could be viewed as a dismal failure by the rest of America.

Early in 2009, the UAW (along with executives at General Motors and Chrysler) succeeded in getting the Obama administration to implement a government-structured bankruptcy of the two failing automakers which resulted in the UAW becoming significant shareholders of both GM and Chrysler.  However, the UAW’s success has come with an estimated loss of $30 billion for American taxpayers who, in turn, have responded with revulsion toward the UAW.

Amid a Pile of Rubble, the UAW Gets a New King

Ron Gettlefinger, the UAW boss who has presided over much of the UAW’s failures over the last decade announced earlier this year that he would be retiring.  His retirement is, at least in part, due to the union’s own rule to give the boot to presidents when they reach the age of 65.  In Gettlefinger’s place, the UAW hierarchy will be placing Bob King and the ailing union’s helm.

King, 63, is a lawyer, the son of an industrial relations director at Ford, and has been in charge of the UAW’s Ford department. 

According to the Detroit Free Press, King “ascends with strong relationships with many management figures, especially at Ford Motor Co., and the experience of navigating the shrinking union through the most turbulent period since its founding in 1935.”

Meanwhile, in a shockingly hypocritical move, the UAW has taken what is normally considered a “management approach” to labor relations with its own unionized staff.  As the Detroit News reports, to cope with its misfortunes the UAW is laying off many of its union staff, as well as imposing cuts–even after they voted to reject the cuts.

The UAW has lost so many members that it is cutting at least 120 staff positions in an effort to balance its budget, UAW sources said.

“We’ve got to downsize,” a union source said. “It may not end there.”

In a stunning role reversal, Gettelfinger told UAW employees Thursday that he would impose the terms of a concessionary contract that they voted down last month. That means reduced benefits for the union’s own retirees and requires each UAW employee to take a two-week unpaid furlough or give up their 401(k) matching contribution next year.

UAW spokesman Roger Kerson said the union had no comment.

Only time will tell if the UAW, with a new King at its throne and significant government-backed ownership of two failing auto companies, will be able to stop its decades-long slide into oblivion.

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“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.”
Thomas Paine December 23, 1776