Editorial: A strike that shouldn't have happened

The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers Union went into this year's contract negotiations looking for a better financial package, the preservation of auto factories and a stronger future with the Detroit automakers.

Most, if not all, of their demands were met in the offer General Motors placed on the table in the waning hours before the contract with the union expired late Saturday. Yet instead of settling and celebrating, the UAW rejected the deal and took 46,000 GM workers out on strike Sunday night.

Eddie Mendoza, an employee at the GM-Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant and UAW Local 22 member, walks the picket line in front of the plant Sunday afternoon in advance of the strike at midnight Sunday.

UAW members who are now foregoing their normal wages for $250 a week in strike pay, would be wise to ask what's going on here.

The answer: This strike is more about the bribery and kickback scandal engulfing top union leaders than it is bettering the economic conditions of workers and strengthening the UAW's position in the domestic auto industry.

In a rare move, a frustrated GM made public the details of its offer. It promised more than $7 billion in investments in union plants and jobs over the four-year life of the contract.

The automaker pledged to create 5,400 new jobs, raise base wages and boost profit sharing, pay an $8,000 signing bonus and keep Cadillac health insurance benefits in place. It also agreed to spare from closure the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant and build a new battery factory near the idled Lordstown plant in northern Ohio.

It's a whale of an offer. UAW Vice President Terry Dittes acknowledged as much in a curious statement, saying the strike might have been averted had the offer come earlier.

UAW Vice President Terry Dittes addresses membership at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center in this Tuesday, July 16, 2019, file photo. Dittes sent an update to GM UAW Local leaders on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

But contracts are almost always settled with 11th-hour offers. So what really happened?

Simple answer: There was no way the compromised UAW leadership could have sold a contract to members without a strike. 

The federal probe into union corruption that has already led to the conviction of nine UAW officials hung heavy over the talks. The feds have said the bribes accepted by union officials influenced the 2015 contract bargaining. 

In recent weeks, the scandal has touched UAW President Gary Jones, whose home was searched by FBI agents and who is believed to be the unidentified UAW official mentioned in federal paperwork detailing the use of union funds.

This strike would appear to be an effort by Jones and the union leadership team to regain their credibility with the membership.

How that will influence the next moves in this stand-off is anyone's guess. 

GM may be able to sweeten the offer enough to allow Jones and crew to prove they've been acting in the best interest of autoworkers. Or the company may let Jones dangle, while continuing to remind striking workers of the generous package they walked away from.

Either way, UAW members are paying the price for the corruption of their leaders.

This is a strike that should never have happened. Union members should not sacrifice their jobs and their futures for leaders who have abused their trust.