The United Auto Workers strike against the Big Three U.S. automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, formerly Chrysler — no matter the merits of the workers’ yearnings, shouldn’t have happened. Once it got going, it shouldn’t have lasted. The White House should have spoken.
Already, there is damage. Ford has “paused” plans to build a $3.5-billion battery plant in Michigan. If the strike drags on or if the industry bows to the most damaging demand in the union’s wish list (a 32-hour work week), then EVs and battery leadership production will be ceded to other countries. U.S. automakers’ dependence on China — the world’s top battery maker for EVs — will continue.
The U.S. auto industry is starting its EV surge behind others, and it will suffer mightily if the UAW doesn’t return to work.
With so much at stake in this circumstance, it would be reasonable to expect President Biden to have both sides closeted at Camp David and to be “knocking heads together.”
The president is the ultimate arbitrator, the one we look to for guidance and to tell us what is best. Yet, instead of bringing both sides together in the national interest, Biden has chosen sides and chosen to walk the picket line.
Even Steven Rattner, the Democrats’ mechanic regarding auto issues, has said this is wrong.
Rattner — whom I caroused with when he was a reporter at The New York Times before he became fabulously rich on Wall Street — is through-and-through a Democrat and one of the party’s intellectuals. In 2009, he authored the rescue plan for the auto industry. At that time, it looked as if General Motors and Chrysler were headed for permanent closure.
What was Biden thinking? Why did he abandon the high ground of the presidency? How can Biden now sit down and bring both sides to the table to negotiate in good faith? He has already declared his allegiance to one.
I believe in the value of unions: guarantors of middle-class life for many. I am not just saying that. I have lived it.
I was once the president of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. I am very proud of the financial settlement we got on my watch for reporters and editors at The Washington Post. It was a breakthrough: a 67 percent pay raise over three years.
The newspaper industry was prosperous then, whereas reporters and editors were poorly paid. It was long before the internet would crush the industry, reducing it to its present state of poverty and collapse. We were asking for some of the goodies we had created. There was no danger of The Washington Post moving to China.
Sadly, the unions have been slow to adjust to new realities. They are stuck in a mindset of the days when we were a country of industrial robber barons and industrial unions made sense. Now, we are a service economy desperately seeking to re-industrialize. EVs are essential in that effort.
I ran into outdated union thinking head-on at the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. Although we were largely autonomous, we were a chapter of the American Newspaper Guild, our head office.
I had a proposal for simplifying work schedules for editorial staff. My proposal was that editorial staff work three days — 10 to 12 hours a day — and have three days off. My colleagues loved it; the Washington Post management saw it as a solution to overtime and weekend staffing problems. I had seen it work well at the BBC in London, where it was standard practice.
The ANG head office went berserk: It was a betrayal of union history and the “model” contract, written by the legendary reporter, columnist and ANG founder Heywood Broun in 1935. In negotiations with The Post, I dropped the proposal, to everyone’s regret. That kind of legacy thinking is what has been killing unions and unionism.
There is a backstory to the Hollywood writers’ strike and the auto workers’ stoppage: artificial intelligence. It will change lives and threaten the kind of work unions have protected.
Biden might well have chosen the strikes as a chance to bring about settlements but also to begin a national dialogue on AI.
Instead, Biden walked a picket line, resolving nothing.