A Chance at Redemption: How the UAW Can Learn From the Past

In late 2008, the auto industry was in dire straits. With two companies filing bankruptcy, and another nearly in the same state of affairs, the nation collectively debated what missteps had brought this once powerful pillar of the national economy to its knees. Some argued that excessive executive pay was to blame, while others pointed out the above-market compensation of the average domestic auto employee, especially when health and retirement benefits were factored in. While the real reason consisted of a mixture of both of these shortcomings, the end result was a $700 million taxpayer-funded bailout. In effect, the citizens of the United States undertook the ownership of both General Motors and Chrysler. Since the bailout, both companies began to climb out of bankruptcy, and Chrysler was sold to Fiat.

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However, the UAW still represents the workforce of both companies, and has recently begun discussing their goals when their collective bargaining agreements are negotiated next year. It can be argued that the largest criticism the UAW receives from the general public is that it works far too hard to protect bad employees. Rob Wolchek, a reporter for Fox 2 in Detroit, recently shined a proverbial light on several examples of unsatisfactory behavior by Chrysler employees. In this piece, Wolchek finds employees having a "brown bottle" lunch every day during a two-week period. In addition, employees were also observed smoking marijuana during their unpaid, half-hour lunch break. While the employees are not paid for this period of time, they are expected to resume their shift afterward. The employees return to work, on time, with little regard for the effect of controlled substances on their work performance.

Huel Perkins, lead anchor for Fox 2, gave an opinion at the conclusion of the story. While expressing outrage, he highlights a key point: the majority of the state of Michigan collectively wants the auto industry to succeed. In addition, the vast majority of auto workers are hard working, dedicated individuals who are immensely proud of the work they do. The fact that Wolchek received this tip from a union employee shows as much. While this behavior may have been overlooked in a previous era, it must end. Our domestic automotive companies cannot afford any more damage to their reputations. To ensure this, the UAW cannot, in good conscience, defend this behavior anymore. In the story, we learn that the accused employees were suspended without pay. Let's hope that the union does not cause undue damage to the reputations of the many good employees in defending the inexcusable behavior of the bad.