Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hypocrisy much?

While there are a variety of reasons why I think the bridge-loan program for the American auto industry didn't pass, it's really odd to see so much attention paid to the unions ... an irrational and unrealistic amount of attention, actually.

Let's consider a few things. This was a $14 billion bridge loan program that was loaded with so much fine print it made your head hurt. It gave targeted low interest loans to the three American automakers. It required they submit a comprehensive plan for restructuring their business and created a 'car czar' that would oversee said restructuring. It set up the terms for lending the money and how it would be paid back to taxpayers (before anything else). And, contrary to popular belief, it involved considerable - and voluntary - concessions from the UAW, including wage and benefit reductions as well as the elimination of the controversial 'Jobs Bank' program.

But this thing died anyway ... largely because Senate Republicans - primarily Southern Senate Republicans who had their own vested interests involved and who fell all over themselves to get behind a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street - simply don't like unions. And, as a result, they've translated their dislike into a petty political strategy that is playing Russian Roulette with not only the lives of the autoworkers, but also the well-being of the American economy.

They wanted the autoworkers to immediately reduce their wages and benefits to bring them in line with Japanese automakers with plants in the United States. Of course, this is a ridiculous suggestion for numerous reasons ...

- I've never found it to be a rationale strategy to regulate the wages of any business or any position in said business, and, typically, that seems to be the Republican-line-of-thinking ... except when it involves unions, of course.

- I don't know why Senate Republicans are so gung-ho to mandate a reduction in wages for these workers, but balked at capping CEO compensation in the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. For that matter, why didn't we start reducing the salaries of financial advisors and bankers as a part of TARP? Why aren't their salaries the reason the economy is being dragged under?

- UAW was willing to reduce wages and benefits over a phased period of time culminating in 2011 when the next agreement would be negotiated between the manufacturers and workers. This has been an arrangement that has worked for close to a century in a variety of industries, yet Senate Republicans were all to eager to toss away their supposed economic ideology in lieu of sticking a thumb in the eyes of workers.

- An immediate reduction in wages and benefits would also, potentially, do more harm than good ... largely because the cost of living in the Great Lakes region is 20 to 30 percent higher than in the South, where foreign car companies are concentrated. The existing salaries of UAW workers are roughly - surprise, surprise - 20 to 30 percent higher than those in the South. As a result, suddenly bringing their salaries in line with those workers would make them significantly worse off than their Southern counterparts, thus drastically impacting their ability to live in what is the worst economic crisis since the 1920s and 1930s.

This whole 'blame-the-unions' mantra that's coming from so many Southern Republicans these days is nothing more than blatant personal disdain seeping its way into how we conduct business (and, I would suggest, one of the main reasons why Republicans suffered such drastic losses the past few years).

Again, there seems to be a rationale case made for the bridge-loan program as there seems to be one for letting the companies go through bankruptcy, but blaming unions for the woes of the American auto industry is as grand of a misdiagnosis as I've ever seen.


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