American Axle Strike: End In Sight?  




American Axle and the UAW are back to talking, 7 weeks after the strike began, and according to the AP, it might mean an end is finally in sight:

The United Auto Workers has given American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. a proposal dealing with economic issues, a local union official said Wednesday as formal negotiations aimed at ending a six-week strike resumed.
A union leader could not give details of the proposal.
"We're just waiting for a response," said Adrian King, who leads a local at the company's Detroit manufacturing complex and sits on the bargaining committee.

Unfortunately, in the very next paragraph, there's a question about the proposal:

However, American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers said the company had not received a proposal from the union as of Wednesday evening but it expected to get one.


I'm still hopeful. Especially now that the UAW and AAM are back to the table.

The show of solidarity from other union members around the country has been sweet, to say the least. I especially loved the news that Chrysler workers joined the picket lines yesterday. From the Detroit News:

"It's them today, us tomorrow," said Ericka Jones, an assembler at Warren Truck. "We have to stick together -- it's called solidarity."

Dave Hodge, a striking quality operator at the American Axle plant, shook hands with several dozen Chrysler workers, many of whom slapped him on the back or promised to return with food for the picketers.

"It feels real good -- it brings us back to life," said the Detroit resident, who is entering his seventh week on the picket line.

Hodge said he's grown frustrated with company officials' comparisons to bankrupt suppliers, while seemingly not recognizing that American Axle is profitable.

"I can't accept having my pay cut in half," Hodge said. "We'll stay out as long as it takes to get a fair deal."


I'm frustrated, too, and I'm not the one on strike. Although a show of solidarity is awesome, but how much can it help negotiators? The complexity of negotiations and how a national union with a national contract negotiates in comparison to how companies eek out local contracts and local negotiations, well, it's this complexity that can be a real problem. It is also one of the problems now facing the GM employees in Parma, Ohio. You can get the gist of this from this Detroit Free Press piece:

Distinctions already exist among UAW plants at American Axle. Even among the plants involved in the strike, wage structures differ.


These distinctions are based on local issues, however, when collectively bargaining on the national level, the issues at the local level should cease to exist, not so at American Axle and many other plants, again from the Free Press.

Taking those issues to the local level in the context of a national contract is something unions try to avoid because it can be seen as a way to divide the membership, said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California at Berkeley.

"In general it's something that a union would certainly prefer not to do because it does undermine its national presence and makes it more vulnerable to one local fighting against another for available jobs," he said. In the case of American Axle's latest talks, it's unclear if the company approached the locals or if it was the other way around.


snip


"The notion of setting wages nationally tends to strengthen the union because it avoids competition between plants," Shaiken said. But, he added, "there's always a temptation in a contract for plants to offer to cut their wages to keep their work."



In AAM's package to the UAW was a list of plants to be "idled" if they were unable to lower labor costs, lower layoff pay, and lower cash payments (buyouts). If they can't reach an agreement with the UAW, it's possible that we may be looking at more local agreements.

As hopeful as I am from the signs of solidarity coming from other unions and workers and even the UAW national office, I'm still worried that American Axle workers are facing more than just the past 7 weeks of this hell, they're looking at the loss of a whole hell of a lot more, their ability to collectively bargain. Losing that leverage, is like shooting ourselves in the foot.

So, today, I'm cautiously optimistic that Jerd0708, his family and all of his co-workers will be back to work soon.

Photos available in Jerd0708's gallery.

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2 comments

  • Jim Bauer  
    5:31 PM

    It's always an argument for these companies of too high labor costs, pension benefits, medical insurance and the like. I think what these CEOs are failing to understand is that a lot of this unrest is due to many top executives looking only to make their cuts at the expense of the OTHER employees (yes, CEOs are employees). Millionaires do not need pensions, they can afford their own pricate medical insurance, do not need to have their tax expenses paid...so why are they? If you want to lower costs, I think looking into the paychecks of the guys making the decisions might be a good place to start. If we level the playing field a little bit, workers have less reason or desire to strike.

  • The Union Girl  
    5:53 PM

    I'd call it more a need to strike than a desire.

    I don't ever recall knowing anyone who wanted to strike, they have simply felt forced into it.

    Having said that, I agree, it's part of the problem and the solution. And I think it's really the first step.

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