Monday, September 24, 2007

Union Stupidity

For over 20 years, US auto industy has been in decline. Part of it is due to poor product development and quality. Part of it is an inflexible work force. Now, while the US-based auto companies are reeling from a decision not to build fuel efficient cars, the unions are striking again. The unions are concerned about continued job losses and want job guarantees. GM is concerned about a $1500/vehicle health care cost differential due primary to a small work force carrying a large retired base. In trying to deal with the union in the past, GM management has acceded to stupid measures like the Jobs Bank where union workers are paid to sit around.

Meanwhile, Japanese auto companies continue to grow, with Toyota overtaking GM. They are growing worldwide and in the US. Because the transplant work force is not unionized, the US players are at a disadvantage. The Japanese get great flexibility with labor.

It's time to change the game - grow the pie rather than slicing it. Working with the union should not just be about greater leverage vs. the employer, it should confer advantages. Things like a trained workforce, greater management of benefits payouts, greater retention of skilled labor, etc. Unions should act like partners rather than adversaries. Now GM's supply chain will grind to a halt, throwing thousands, with suppliers, millions out of work. Toyota will chug along, GM will lose a tremendous amount of money.

The unions cannot erase past poor decisions, but at least they can find a way to make their companies more competitive.