Layoffs at the UAW

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that the United Auto workers is laying off 58 members of its staff. The Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents UAW staff, is crying foul.

If collective bargaining really were the great deal for workers that its union propenents claim it to be, then layoffs would be rare and concessions would be mild when they came up at all.  But collective bargaining is not magic fairy dust that makes hard economic decisions go away. As the Freep article itself notes, the UAW has lost nearly 75 percent of the membership it had from its peak in 1979, and it was just a couple of years ago that two out of the Big Three were in bankruptcy.

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The fact that the UAW is a union, and thus supposedly dedicated to improving the lot of workers, does not negate the economic realities that the UAW faces: its services just aren't as much in demand as they once were. And hence the union doesn't need as much staff as it once did.

OPEIU Local President Audrey McKenna argues that the UAW could have held on to jobs by economizing elsewhere. That may or may not be the case — union financial reporting is still inadequate and if anything getting worse — but Ms. McKenna sounds naive when she claims to be shocked by the UAW's decisions: "You know that your bosses know better because they have fought corporations that have pulled anti-union stuff ... you really don't expect that from a union employer." But union officials are no less human than other bosses, and the economic imperative to stay within a budget is very real, even if it is often inconvenient for union officials and unionized workers. It would be better for all, unionized workers especially, if the union establishment could bring itself to acknowledge that.