Friday, April 17, 2009

Attention Ken Lewenza: You are playing with people's lives.


One of the hardest hit industries from the current global economic downturn is the auto manufacturing sector, particularly GM and Chrysler. As a 30 year CAW member and 24 year Chrysler employee I am dismayed every day to read the latest ramblings from CAW head Ken Lewenza. Equally disappointing are the almost daily appearances of the supposedly retired former CAW head Buzz Hargrove. Guys, pay attention here.

You are playing Russian roulette here with thousands of peoples jobs and lives. The problem is you seem to have loaded a bullet in every chamber of the gun.

Reading comments in various media on a daily basis, it appears everybody gets it but you. The CAW has done a fantastic job in representing the workers in the past, and the Big 3 have been generous with our pay and benefits in good times. But the fact is these are no longer good times, and drastic action must be taken to ensure the viability of these companies. I realize giving something up seems foreign to you, but it is now a matter of necessity. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have stepped up to the table when they had no obligation to do anything.

Now it's our turn to step up to the table. Many of the things the companies are asking for will provide no major hardships to the workers. Let's take a look at some of the things talked bout.

1. Legal Plan: This is a taxable benefit, and costs each worker roughly $150 per year. Most workers only access the plan when buying a home, and this is only covered once every few years. Give it up, it saves the company money and most workers won't notice much of a differance, many will save money.

2. Remaining Spa week. The union has already showed leadership by giving up one week in the last contract. Give up the other. The fact is we never even had spa weeks until the mid 90's. The time off is nice but having a job is nicer.

3. Tuition Coverage. This was a wonderful idea when it was first negotiated, but the fact is most children of workers attending college or university work as tpt's in the plant, drawing an excellant wage to assist with the cost of their education.

4. Massage therapy, orthotics, etc.: This is another example of something that will provide a cost savings to the company with little effect on most workers. Seems like a no-brainer.

5. Out of province health care coverage: To be honest, I never even knew we had this. But if I'm not mistaken healtlh insurance coverage can be optained for travelling fairly cheap. Again, this would not affect most workers, and would give the company substantial savings on costs.

6. Two-Tier Wages: I know both you and Buzz have been steadfast in your refusal to consider this , but the fact is the UAW have already conceded this. You really can't believe any of the automakers would invest in Canada when newly hired workers in the U.S. make half the wage, do you? Perhaps that is the reason GM chose the Oshawa truck plant be closed rather than the American or Mexican plants. Surely you can't believe GM would close the top quality and productivity truck assembly plant if it was cost-competitive to build trucks there.

These are just a few examples to allow these companies to get back to profitability. Here is a suggestion from a lowly worker on the line. Take the pain and do what needs to be done. Down the road when things turn around, then you can begin to negotiate for improvements. If you decide to keep your heels dug in and plants start to close, I'm not sure of any explanation you can give to those workers standing in the unemployment line, the ones whose best interests is your job to protect.

18 comments:

sean_calder said...

Well said Paul! It's encouraging to see thoughtful and realistic blogging regarding this matter!

Alberta Girl said...

It would be nice if there were more union employees like you Paul. Sadly, it seems that many feel they are entitled to many things the majority of Canadian workers wouldn't even dream of asking their employer for.

I wonder why the union membership doesn't stand up and kick their leaders to the curb. How come these guys have so much power?

Brian Gardiner said...

Alberta Girl, I'll answer your last question. The reason is because these guys in the union, not just the top guys but the people who can't even win an election for health and safety trainer, spend hours and hours dedicated to their lunacy. To fight them, to kick them to the curb, would require spending serious time outside of working hours.

They are motivated by ideology, I'm just there for the pay cheque. If I'm going to spend all those hours away from my family, I might as well pick up some overtime. So they get away with it.

It's no different really than special interest groups who spend their working days pressuring the government for special treatment, and they have a serious financial incentive to do so. You? You have to fight on your after work hours, and your financial incentive is minimal.

Nice job Paul, I'm gonna link to you in the next day or two with my response.

By the way, you missed something: I vote no to any concession offer that doesn't eliminate union awareness.

paulsstuff said...

"By the way, you missed something: I vote no to any concession offer that doesn't eliminate union awareness."

I agree 100% Brian. I forgot to add that to the list. Union Awareness is akin to an appointment to the senate. It rewards failed union reps, friends and relatives with teaching positions, and is generally a financial drag on the company.

For those who do not know what union awareness is, workers are required to attend a 40 hour course every year. The course is the usual union drivel, and the company pays the time of the teachers and workers attending.

And don't even get me started on the Port Elgin "seminars".

M.O.M. said...

Very interesting but you already know the answer. To fight the current union establishment you or someone with some common sense has to put the time in at the pulpit. The current union started as a movement and if they are unwilling to adapt then a new movement has to start sewing new seeds. If a paycheck is all you are after then you are admitting to a week to week existence with no surety for the future. Nothing more. If not you, maybe you know who can start the process. Everything will be lost if this does not happen.

Rural and Right said...

Ken Leweza's CAW was recently out side my work place trying once again after failing for 22 years to gain members from Honda of Canada Manufacturing. To no surprise the CAW was greeted with hostility.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Great post, Paul.

I get the feeling that the Union Big Wigs are panicking. Their little empire is disintegrating. If they give in, then they will look useless.

You make great points but it probably doesn't fulfill their agenda.

JMHO.

paulsstuff said...

Thanks Joanne. Well, I had a run-in with Buzz in 1997 do to somethings I said on Global and CTV news. That was the year GM and Ford had already settled, and at the last minute Buzz decided we were going on strike if Magna never agreed to allow the CAW to be certified.

And I'm sure Lewenza will be more than a little unhappy if he sees my comments here. Sorry Ken, but its 2009, we are in a global recession, GM and Chrysler would already be bankrupt if not for the American and Canadian governments, and hundreds of parts plants would also now be sitting empty.

As I understand it, the company is not asking for a cut in wage or pension, only asking for some concessions and co-pays for benefits. Do the right thing. Down the road when the industry is back on its feet and profitable, then you can begin to negotiate for improvements.

I'm remidned of a Billy Preston song, which had a lyric that went something from nothing leaves nothing. Nothing is exactly what we will be left with if you continue to dig in your heels.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

I hope he listens to you, Paul.

Mgmt Point of View said...

Is there anyone who truly thinks Chrysler can survive? Even with Fiat coming on board, it's going to be close to 3 years before any of their small car technology can be implemented into design. Small cars are not money makers, unless you're doing mega volume. I don't see any benefit to Fiat especially when they're not contributing any capital.

Last fall was the death blow for Chrysler when they offered across teh board buyouts to management. Design & technology departments were pretty much wiped out. How do you expect to develop future product? You don't, that's how.

So if you can agree that Chrysler's not likely to survive this current downturn, it makes sense to get whatever you can from the company now.

Call their bluff and see if they close down Brampton & Windsor. If they do move production to the States there'll be severance packages and everyone can cash out their pensions into personal RRSPs.

Harbour Reports show that it takes about 18 - 20hrs to build a Chrysler vehicle. Suppose the CAW gives in the $20/hr pay & benefit reduction. That's an average savings of $400/vehicle.

Chrysler sold 1.45M units in 2007. Reducing $400/unit would result in an annualized saing of $580M. Even if sales can somehow jump to 2M units per year that's an annual savings of $800M.

Guys, that's a drop in the bucket when their cash burn is $1B/month. Time to accept reality for what it is...,

Roy Eappen said...

Thanks for writing this Paul. Perhaps the union leaders will readit too, but I am not hopeful.

paulsstuff said...

Chrysler actually has some excellant cars due out within 1-2 years. An electric sports car that is head and shoulders above any competitor, an electric/gas hybrid mini-van and Grand Cherokee, redesigned 300, which is smaller and more fuel efficient. A redesigned Charger, more powerful, excellant fuel economy, and a new model called the 200C.

Google 200C to see this car. The auto journalists were all raving about it at the Detroit auto show.

The 300, Charger, Challenger, and 200C are all slated to be bulit at the Brampton plant beginning 2010, and all are profitable vehicles. Which makes Lewenza's position all the more confusing.

paulsstuff said...

"Call their bluff and see if they close down Brampton & Windsor. If they do move production to the States there'll be severance packages and everyone can cash out their pensions into personal RRSPs."

Thats pretty risky. If they go the bankrupt route, it could take years to get your pension payout, and even then you might be lucky to get 30 cents on the dollar.

East of Eden said...

I belong to a large and powerful union and it makes a total difference who is president. A few years ago, we went on strike for a few days over nothing. The original offer to our table was reasonable but out then-president, a militant feminist with no brain, spit in the employer's face. Months later, after she and her team had "worked tirelessly on our behalf", we settled for LESS than the original offer. And she was telling us that we should be thrilled.

It was very telling that, at the time, the employees in our union's headquarters went on strike. Imagine - the people employed in our union's head office went on strike.

Our new president is much more reasonable. The employer made an offer and was told that it was the ONLY offer. No negotiation. Wisely, he asked only for job security and that was granted. We were advised to vote to ratify the contract and, if any of us wished to vote it down, we had to put a logical explanation on the back of our ballot.

The contract was ratified and we have our jobs.

Basil Hargrove and Ken Lewenza are hard-headed grandstanders who care nothing for the lives of the membership. We saw this during our bus strike in Ottawa when the ATU local president decided to have a pissing contest with our mayor. Who cared if the members' lives were seriously harmed? The president and his executive still kept their salary. What most people don't know is that when an employee is on strike, everything stops. All benefits, all wages, vacations, etc. It's as if he is not employed at all.

Unions are necessary to protect us but...leadership must realize that their role is to listen to membership and not push their own personal agenda.

paulsstuff said...

You nailed it Eden. We've seen a number of times in the past two years where manufacturing plants in Ontario asked for concessions to keep the plants open, and the CAW refused, even though the worker were in favor of the concessions and saving their jobs.

Springer said...

Great post!

I used to work on the other end of the line, as a sales manager over ten years in two different Ford stores.

Posted my view of all this following LaSorda's ultimatum.

Anonymous said...

Hi All I am not an Autoworker but have always been frustrated listening to your union leadership. Yesterday listening to A-Channel News they showed 2 guys coming out of the CAW head quarters who worked for Chrysler. They were showing their pay stubs showing they made 34.33/Hour. See its not $75/ hour. Its like there is a complete disconnect. Reading some of the other comments kids tuition paid for? the Spa weeks? Legal fees covered. These are Public sector perks(as they should for the public sector) that should be dropped. I am engineer and make the same salary without the perks. The sad comment is no concessions= no job and those kind of jobs will not come along again. Making 71000/yr without those perks is still a pretty good position to be in. Some of the other comments about the leadership are so true they put in the extra hours (like politicians) to have the control. My father was a CAW member for 20 years and always felt the union always protected the laziest people in the group all of same kind of people rose to the top too.

I hate seeing people lose their jobs but in the end if you make your price too high noone will buy what you are selling and that what the CAW needs to realize.

My $0.02

Nicole said...

hey paul i couldnt agree with you more. ken lewenza is a bastard and needs to lose his job its people like you that can see where this thing is going. I am an autoworker and if it takes a cut in wages to keep my job im ready for it. the problem is ken isnt and in the end he will keep his job and ours will be lost.