UAW President Says Things Won’t Change With Chrysler Ownership

Second marriages are often described as the triumph of hope over experience. It’s already beginning to look as if the pundits optimism regarding the UAW’s majority ownership is likewise mostly hope.

Here from Clusterstock is Joe Weisenthall’s take:

“But a car company with significant UAW ownership is bound to be run much better than car companies under the previous scenario because the Union, finally, will have a stake in the companies success. They’ve never had that before. Previously, their relationship was, frankly, parasitical. The union had no real reason to see the car companies succeed. They just wanted their wages maintained, their pension fully funded and their healthcare.”

But you can’t be a parasitical on yourself. That’s impossible. The only way the union’s equity stakes in the car companies will be worth something is if the car companies make it. And if the car companies flail, they won’t really have anyone else to blame.

I don’t mean to pick on Joe. There were plenty of other sentiments along this line. Here and here are links to a couple of other opinions.

It seems as if Ron Gettelfinger, the head of the UAW, views things a bit differently. According to the WSJ he told Fox News that things aren’t really going to change all that much.

“The United Auto Workers president is seeking to distance his union from direct responsibility for the future of Chrysler LLC, noting 55% of the auto maker will be owned by a retiree health care trust fund and not the union itself. 

“It’s this independent trust that will own these shares,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said on the Fox Business Network Friday morning. Mr. Gettelfinger’s office did not immediately respond to interview requests.

The trust–known as a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA–is supposed to take ownership of 55% of Chrysler as part of a government-brokered cost-cutting plan that union workers ratified earlier this week. Chrysler filed for federal bankruptcy protection Thursday.

Mr. Gettelfinger also implied in the Fox interview that the UAW would be able to act independently, even strike if necessary, despite the fact that the union would own a critical piece of the company through the VEBA trust.

“The VEBA is controlled by the outside independent directors who have been appointed by a judge to serve on that,” he said. “We have less UAW representation on the VEBA. And as far as the board seat that the VEBA is going to get [on the Chrysler board] with the approval of the UAW, the voting will be done by independent directors….So, I don’t see that conflict of interest issue.”

Mr. Gettelfinger added that “we have issues and occasionally we’ll have a strike but we settle 98% of our agreements without any kind of an altercation with the employer. It’s in our best interests. It’s in their best interests.” 

That doesn’t sound to me like a guy who believes that somehow a magical alignment of worker, management and owner interests has occurred. It’s worth noting that around 30% of Chrysler UAW members voted against the plan. I’m sure that wasn’t lost on Mr. Gettelfinger. He knows well that minority can turn into a majority in the blink of an eye, particularly so if Chrysler doesn’t prosper and all that stock turns into just so much paper.

The average worker is justifiably concerned with how much money is going into his pocket and what kind of benefits he can wring out of his employer. The prospect that sometime down the road a slug of stock might materially benefit him is a view that is treated with a high degree of skepticism.

Don’t expect union-management relationships to change all that much in Detroit.

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