Workers at a non-union Toyota plant in Kentucky have been offered incentives to retire early in order for management to replace them with new hires at a lower starting wage. The labor cost advantages formerly enjoyed by Toyota—the non-union premium—is no longer available to non-union plants in the auto industry. It seems the wages and benefits long ago won by a more aggressive UAW have retreated to the extent that non-union plants must now secure lower compensation in order to compete!
Since the UAW has conceded starting pay in the unionized industry down to about $14-16 per hour, Toyota seeks to replace older workers making around $26 per hour in their Kentucky plant with new hires at $16 per hour. Thus, the union shops are paradoxically pressuring the wages and benefits of non-union employees downward.
As reported in The Wall Street Journal, industry experts claim that the non-union manufacturers enjoyed a $29 an hour competitive advantage in wages and benefits as recently as 2008. By the end of 2011, they report that non-union labor costs were about equal with General Motors and actually higher than Chrysler!
It is hard to imagine a more demoralizing consequence for the union movement in the US: if only the market, and not a fighting union, is to competitively determine wages and benefits, how does one entice workers to join the union? For the bankrupt UAW leadership, union growth comes only from striking a deal with the employers-- a deal that would promise collaboration and stability at the expense of workers’ pay and benefits.
The decimation of the living standards of US unionized auto workers came with the bailout and subsequent temporary stewardship of the auto industry by a Democratic Party administration. That same administration demanded plant closings and layoffs as a condition of the bailout.
With friends like these, workers are sadly in dire straights.
Clearly, radical changes are in order, changes that cry out for class struggle unionism and independent political action. Without a new direction, US workers will continue the descent towards Depression-era living standards.
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Read more here.