But Can You Actually Shake The Workers Upside-Down And Collect The Change From Their Pockets?
David Gregory, himself a union member but with the perspective of a Beltway Villager, had the new GM CEO on yesterday and couldn't stop asking him about union-busting:
GREGORY:…The legacy costs, meaning all of the costs associated with union employees, part of the United Auto Workers, is just a huge issue for General Motors. The government report indicates that in order to pay those retired autoworkers, gm has to produce an extra 900,000 cars every year. What is the message to the union now? Doesn’t it have to be those days are over?
HENDERSON: I think the message to all the constituents that play a part in our future we need to pull together. We need to sacrifice as a group, whether it's our people, our unions, our salaried employees, our dealers or suppliers, we need to pull together to do what's necessary to make General Motors viable going forward. We have been doing that. We’ve gotten enormous support from that up to this point. We need to do more.
GREGORY: Well, let's talk about how you can do more. How many union jobs are there in a typical factory for General Motors that have nothing to do with producing automobiles?
HENDERSON: Well, actually every job we have in the factory has something to do with producing an automobile. Whether it's obviously putting the actual car together or supplying materials to the line or maintaining the equipment that’s in the plant. So we have worked very hard and if you look at external surveys, for example, like a Harbor Report, we have closed the gap in terms of competiveness, in terms of the manpower. We have within our operation. We need to do more. Every person in the plant has something to do with putting together a car or truck.
GREGORY: But in some factories, you have a shop steward who's responsible for appointing--whether it's a civil rights chief or an education person, these are all union jobs that don’t have anything to do with producing the cars.
HENDERSON: Well, we have -- the union has key jobs, as you identified, but let's take an example. Let’s take health and safety-- we work together with the union health and safety in our plants. We have the safest plants in the United States, in fact, around the globe. And I think providing, for example, a safe work place is very much in the best interests of the company as well as the union.
GREGORY: You have told health care managers and executives over 65 they no longer get health care benefits. They have to revert at that point to Medicare. Is it time for union workers to accept that same limit?
HENDERSON: David, the provision of health care to our hourly employees will basically vest to the responsibility of a Viva trust, effective January 1st, 2010. The Viva Trust will be responsible for determining the level of benefits. I can't really forecast, if you will, what decisions they're going to make.
GREGORY: Do you think that's the kind of cut that the union should have to accept?
HENDERSON: Not for me to say, David. I think in the end, the trustees in the Viva are going to have to make those decisions.
GREGORY: Do you really expect this president, given how strongly supported he is by the unions, do you really expect him to take a step that would hurt the unions?
HENDERSON: I think President Obama -- let me put it in a positive -- basically said we want to work together to make sure this company is viable, successful and part of the automotive industry in the next 100 years. And basically, he asked all the parties to come back together and make sure we do exactly that. So I don't think it's about hurting some constituency or another. It’s about what do we have to do to win in the future.
Gosh, you'd think that GM was simply a make-work company to hire those lazy money-grubbing union employees. You wouldn't think that the problem of GM being among the only car companies in the entire world to have to pay for the health care of their employees exists at all. GM signed the union contracts, after all, and when AIG signs them they are sacrosanct and cannot possibly be abrogated. But GM, and companies like it, could have advocated for universal health care a half-dozen times over the past 60 years since WWII. The same with David Gregory. But it's much simpler, and acceptable to their upper-class sphere of influence, to bash unions.