Bowman: How Obamacare could affect UAW negotiations

Terry Bowman

UAW contract renewals are always stressful on autoworkers. Both the union and the auto companies publicly position their goals, hoping to gain an advantage. Promises of jobs and investments from the manufacturers along with hardline union rhetoric keep workers anxious about the future.

Two big events will make this year's negotiations very interesting. The passage of the Affordable Care Act and Michigan's right to work law are now in play.

Most union officials fought for the passage of Obamacare, but later broke with their party and recognized its potentially shattering impact on workers and the "foundation of the 40-hour work week." In a 2013 letter written by numerous labor leaders including James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters, they stated that unless the ACA is modified it will "destroy the very health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans."

The UAW however dug their heels in the ACA quicksand and continued to praise the passage of the bill. They even dedicated their November-December 2013 Solidarity newsletter to the implementation of the ACA.

This high praise for Obamacare and blind obedience to their political agenda leads to troubling problems for autoworkers.

The UAW's reverence to Obamacare provides auto companies a monstrous bargaining chip. After the preliminary handshakes and the doors close, there is nothing stopping company negotiators from exploiting the UAW's public stance on the ACA and declaring that all health care benefits will be cut, and all workers and their families will be placed into the ACA. The cost savings to auto companies by slashing health care expenses would easily cover wage increases for employees and help to eliminate the lower tier wage system — the two stated major goals of the UAW. Workers may get a contract with hourly wage increases and the elimination of the tier system, but at the loss of private health care.

The union cannot fight or negotiate against autoworkers being forced into Obamacare without publicly admitting that the ACA may be good for others, but not good enough for their workers — thus creating class warfare and exposing their hypocrisy.

In fact it has already happened. During recent negotiations with Faurecia, a former Ford factory in Saline, a local reporter stated that the union was "resisting efforts to move toward Obamacare."

UAW officials have painted themselves into a corner, all due to a blind political ideology that will ultimately hurt their own power at the negotiation table.

The other big change is that for the first time since the right to work bill passed in 2012, Michigan UAW autoworkers will be able to exercise those rights, freedoms, and protections. For the many thousands of workers who disagree with the union's political agenda and have grown weary of their money being used to promote harmful policies like the ACA, they can finally keep their money and withdraw. Thousands more are still angry at union officials for outsourcing their bad decisions onto the backs of workers by raising dues last year by 25 percent in one fell swoop. The exodus of workers leaving the UAW could be much bigger than union officials are willing to admit.

In the end, the union's political agenda is coming back to roost, and the consequences may have long-lasting effects for Michigan's autoworkers.

Terry Bowman is a Ford-UAW worker and the president and founder of Union Conservatives Inc.