The UAW & Me

The United Auto Workers will not have to sell its money-losing luxury golf course right away, thanks to the money taxpayers are sending to GM and Chrysler. But my own experience with the union suggests to me why so many jobs have been destroyed in companies employing UAW members.

Many years ago, while in engineering college, I worked as a summer intern at a UAW company.  Their multiyear contract was coming up for renewal that fall, so the union leaders were looking for grievances -- real or fabricated -- to use as bargaining chips during the contract negotiations.  Meanwhile, their propaganda machine churned out hate-filled local newsletters that referred to company executives as "pigs" and other insulting slurs that are unprintable here.

One of my first assignments was to find a way to route engine control cables more efficiently.  If successful, that project would have saved material, improved product reliability, and made it easier for union installers to build our products.  All three stakeholders would benefit from the results: the company would reduce its production costs; our customers would get better (and perhaps less costly) products; and our laborers would have less rework.  Win-win-win.

Although this particular company had one of the industry's best relationships with its unions, my boss still warned me to be careful not to antagonize anyone as I ventured toward the shop floor with my clipboard and safety glasses.  I dutifully tracked down a lead worker, explained my mission politely, and was escorted to one of the 4000 cubic inch engines that had just come off the assembly line.

We found a long scrap of sparkplug cable so I could test various paths for the controls and find out how best to improve their routing.  The union worker even brought me a ladder so I could climb around on the awesome machine and take measurements.

A few minutes later, that same worker pointed at me and shouted, "Hey Blackie, that guy is wiring engines!"

Other union members chimed in with, "Wildcat strike!" and "Shut down the line!"  Blackie and a crowd of other shop stewards gathered at the base of my ladder.

Being a college student familiar with fraternity hazing, I assumed their artificial anger would turn into smiles when I reached the reached the floor.  Then they would shake my hand and say, "Welcome to the big leagues, kid."  But that didn't happen.  The union worker had betrayed me.  Perhaps the union bosses even gave him some "walking around money" as bounty for the phony grievance he later filed.

Despite that unpleasant start, I continued to work for the next ten years at another company with UAW shops.  I got to know many of the workers and became friends with some of them.  Most are diligent employees and nice people.

My company's management chose to give its non-union professionals the same benefits that our UAW counterparts negotiated.  That would seem to give us an incentive to root for the union, but I suppose they simply wanted to avoid giving us motives to form a union of our own.

So, like my union buddies, I got overly generous benefits, holidays, vacation time, and cost-of-living raises.  But unlike my union buddies, I eventually realized that most unions simply grab a larger and larger slice of an ever-shrinking pie.  Soon after that, I moved on to organizations where I was compensated for my performance rather than relying on union bosses for my personal welfare.

In non-union organizations, employees work as a team to boost productivity.  That makes their employer more efficient and better able to compete, which benefits all employees by growing the size of the corporate pie.  All workers, from janitor to CEO, get a bigger slice.  In contrast, the UAW was fighting the introduction of industrial automation while I was there, sabotaging assembly line robots and so on.  In a non-union shop, workers worry when their competitor installs robots; in a union shop, they worry when their employer installs them.

The result was as I predicted many years ago: Non-union shops automated much sooner, yet added jobs in the long run because their companies were more efficient and grew.  Meanwhile, UAW employees made more money in the short run -- until most of them lost their jobs.  Over the past 30 years, UAW membership has plummeted from 1.5 million to just a few hundred thousand today, and many of the remaining jobs also would (and should) be eliminated if we taxpayers weren't subsidizing their inefficiency.

UAW leadership tactics are identical to those of today's Democratic Party leaders: They divide our productive American team into adversarial groups.  Then they pit one group against the other for slices of the pie, hiding the fact that their very actions are shrinking its overall size.  They promote a win-lose philosophy.  It's what biologists refer to as a "parasitic relationship".

In contrast, true conservatives, libertarians, and non-union automakers believe in working as a team to grow the pie, which benefits everyone.  They know that a free market economy is a naturally symbiotic win-win entity.