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Editorial: Blame strike on UAW corruption

The Detroit News

Striking United Auto Workers face losing nearly $1,000 a week, while General Motors Co. has already lost between $50 million and $100 million in operating revenue in just the first day of the union’s strike against the automaker.

Is it worth it? The short answer is no. GM put an offer on the table before the late Sunday night walkout that should have either produced a contract or encouraged more negotiations toward one. 

Kelly McKinnon and other workers and their supporters demonstrate outside a General Motors facility in Langhorne, Pa., Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. More than 49,000 members of the United Auto Workers walked off General Motors factory floors or set up picket lines early Monday as contract talks with the company deteriorated into a strike.

Instead, 46,000 autoworkers are on the picket line and production at GM plants is at a standstill. And the reason has little to do with what was placed on the bargaining table.

UAW leaders took their GM members off the job because they lacked the credibility to sell a contract without a walkout. A federal probe into union corruption has so compromised the union officials that members can have no confidence they are bargaining in good faith, unaffected by the bribery and kickback scandal.

More:46,000 UAW workers strike at GM plants nationwide

Already, 10 top UAW officials have been indicted; Gary Jones, the union’s president, is under investigation, and a top officer who was indicted last week, Vance Pearson, is still sitting in on contract negotiations.

The distrust of UAW leadership raises the real possibility that members won't ratify any contract this team brings to them. That's why we called for Jones to step aside or step down, to be replaced by an untainted group of union negotiators.

GM is exploiting the breakdown in the relationship between union leaders and members by taking the rare step of making its contract offer public. The details of GM's proposal make the strike decision even more perplexing.

The offer may not have been all the UAW demanded, but it covered enough of the union's wish list to indicate talks had not broken down and that a very equitable settlement was within reach.

GM had agreed to invest $7 billion in 10 facilities in eight states, creating 5,400 new jobs. It would spare the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant from closure and build a new battery plant near the idled Lordstown plant in northern Ohio. Workers would get base wage increases and bonuses, including an $8,000 signing bonus when the contract is ratified. Health insurance benefits would go untouched, and the annual profit sharing formula would be enhanced.

But instead of splitting profits, the UAW is killing them. Estimates place the strike’s cost to GM at between $50 million and $100 million a day, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Meanwhile, workers who had been earning a minimum of $1,200 a week are now awaiting strike pay of $250 a week. 

Let’s be clear. The cause is not stinginess by GM. The automaker, facing uncertain trade policy and a slowing market, still committed itself to a massively expensive contract that would have strengthened the UAW’s future with the domestic auto industry. At the end of the contract, the UAW would have had more of its members working for GM, building cars in more U.S. facilities. 

GM may decide it is in its own best interest to bail out Jones and crew by sweetening an already generous offer enough to allow them to convince members they have their back. Or it may let him dangle until UAW members grow weary of sacrificing for leaders who have stolen their dues and traded influence for bribes and kickbacks. 

Either way, blame this strike almost entirely on UAW corruption, and its corrosive influence on the bargaining process.