What a double-standard, one that could very well touch your life or that of someone you know. Watch the video and you'll get a good idea of just how many people's lives are affected by Detroit's auto industry.
I wanted to mention those $71 dollar an hour autoworker wages and benefits the papers keep talking about. What they don't tell you is those figures are based on old contracts and include the projected cost of lifetime health care and pensions. Under a new contract negotiated last year, union employees will make considerably less than that, some as little as $14 per hour, and benefits have been reduced too. (Another reason we should have universal health care.)
Union workers aren't the fat cats the media makes them out to be. In fact, UAW members are actually losing their edge against foreign automakers. From the Detroit Free Press, February 2007:
Workers for foreign automakers don't pay union dues, but they do share the costs of insurance and retirement plans. UAW-represented autoworkers get health insurance and a full pension after 30 years -- valuable perks they will fight to keep during contract negotiations this year.Detroit's automakers have been shedding workers by the thousands over the past decade and the average wages will continue to fall, but the difference between union and non-union autoworkers isn't as vast as the media makes it out to be. In fact, by 2011, Toyota's labor costs could exceed the Big 3 because they've been here for 30 years now and a growing number of their workers are paid top wages.
But even accounting for Toyota employees' health care spending -- $700 per year on average, according to the company -- the [Toyota] Georgetown workers still made more in 2006.
General Motors Corp., which lost $10.6 billion in 2005 and didn't issue profit-sharing checks last year, paid its production workers an average of $27 an hour, GM spokesman Daniel Flores said. That would be a base of about $54,000 a year, based on a 2,000-hour work year. The $30 average at Toyota's Georgetown plant, which includes a bonus, equals $60,000 a year.
Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group representatives said GM's base pay figures are similar to theirs. Only Chrysler, which had a 2005 profit, paid a bonus last year. The $650 bonus was not enough to surpass Toyota's pay. [...]
Assembly workers for Detroit automakers last year remained a bit ahead of Honda's U.S. hourly workers, who made an average $24.25 an hour, or $26.20 with the $4,485 bonus they received. In November, Honda paid bonuses for the 21st consecutive year, the longest streak in U.S. auto history, said Ed Miller, Honda spokesman.
Nissan workers are paid $24 an hour in Mississippi and $26 an hour in Tennessee, but company officials would not disclose employee bonuses.
Hyundai Motor Co. pays its U.S. production workers less than other automakers. Wages at its Alabama plant start at $14 an hour and grow to $21 an hour after two years on the job, according to a January 2004 company release.
The domestic automakers are competitive with foreign ones, but they currently find themselves in trouble not of their own making. Credit has dried up, people can't get loans, and cars aren't selling. Don't blame the middle-class auto workers, blame those highly compensated Wall Street and Washington types who made a mess of things.
UPDATE: Dean Baker did a better job of clarifying claims that GM auto workers are paid $70 an hour than I did: "The trick is to add in GM's legacy costs, the pension and health care costs for retired workers. These legacy costs are a serious expense for GM, but this is not money being paid to current workers. The person on the line in 2008 is not benefiting from these legacy costs."