- - Monday, October 21, 2019

The United Auto Workers is peddling its latest deal with General Motors as an achievement in “key gains” for auto workers. What the union won’t tell you is that its misguided month-long strike put a lot of pressure on workers for very little payoff.

But that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who’s been following the UAW’s most recent fall from grace. Especially for workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who can rest assured knowing that their recent decision to reject the union was the right choice.

Five former UAW officials have pleaded guilty to their involvement in a large-scale scheme to defraud auto workers. At least three more have been implicated. Their crimes against members include funneling $4.5 million from the union’s training center into their own pockets. The UAW’s former vice president, Norwood Jewell, was convicted of spending union money on “cigars, big steaks, first-class airfare, rounds of golf, villas, lavish entertainment and personalized bottles of wine.”

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Some may recall the scandals that plagued the Teamsters Union in the late 1980s. The Teamsters were so clearly bought and sold by organized crime that the federal government took control of the union for 25 years. The same level of government oversight has been suggested as a remedy for the UAW’s pervasive corruption.

But the UAW is determined to avoid that fate. The suspicious timing of the recent strike against GM appeared a convenient ploy for redirecting news headlines away from its “culture of corruption.” UAW President Gary Jones was implicated in the ongoing federal investigation into corruption in the union just days before the UAW triggered the walkout.

It was a no-brainer for union officials to sacrifice the welfare of their own members in exchange for some alternative press coverage. The UAW would rather be seen as “standing in solidarity” with workers than standing behind bars. At least the union was kind enough to increase weekly strike pay by a whopping $25 for workers who were struggling to make ends meet after living on about a quarter of what they should have been making.

The UAW was able to secure a $11,000 ratification bonus for workers if they vote “yes” on the latest deal. But after accounting for the estimated $6,000 in salary and profit sharing that workers lost during the strike, that bonus is closer to $5,000.

But wait, GM already offered an $8,000 bonus in its original pre-strike offer — before auto workers lost thousands on the picket lines. At the end of the day, it turns out that $11,000 bonus is providing workers $3,000 less than the $8,000 originally offered. And that’s considered a “win” by the union leadership? 

Perhaps workers could be satisfied with that payout if they were confident that the union secured a hefty job-security investment from GM. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The UAW failed to save three out of four auto plants. The one factory that will remain open was already part of GM’s original deal prior to the strike. No big gains there.

But that’s not all. As some critics have pointed out, the union also failed to secure GM’s supposed $7 billion investment and its promise to retain or add 9,000 jobs in writing.

For context, the 2015 deal between the UAW and GM includes billions of dollars slated for investment. It also provides a comprehensive list of the number of jobs workers can expect to be filled across 24 plants. Workers looking for a similar promise in this deal will be sorely disappointed.

It’s up to UAW members to decide whether or not to accept the offer. Even with a disappointing deal after weeks without work, people still have mortgages to pay. With about $700 million still sitting in the UAW strike fund, their GM members should ask for a refund to cover lost wages to make them whole. Or perhaps they should take advantage of the new Michigan right-to-work law and stop paying dues to a union that lacks the integrity to represent workers’ interests. 

• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Co., a public relations firm in Washington, D.C.  

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