This morning we woke to the news that nearly 50,000 workers at General Motors (GM) are on strike. The UAW represents almost 160k workers, and GM is the first in line in this cycle of negotiation.
The sticking points are rather sticky but are trying to address past wrongs.
At the heart of the dissent are two issues: temporary workers and exclusive workforce supply.
The UAW gave away full supply of its employers’ workforce when it addressed a growing need for the company to be able to “scale production during demand peaks without adding to its permanent workforce” (London, “UAW caught covering up plan to double temporary workers in new Fiat Chrysler agreement”). The creation of temporary worker status allowed UAW employers to take on additional manpower without creating a permanent headcount obligation. This move ensured that no significant burden on the health and pension systems would be added, and it helped stock prices remain relatively stable despite spikes in costs. In exchange, permanent workers saw increases in profit sharing models and received commitments that “existing work” would not be sent offshore.
The problem for Labor is consistent. Labor leaders often bargain over existing conditions without accounting for advancements in technology, global competitiveness, and an aging work model. These leaders focus on protecting existing occupation models, rather than securing the evolution of the jobs which happens in every occupation.
The vivid example can be seen in education where teachers continue to fight for a shrinking market share. First competing with a growing charter system that offered an alternative to mandated market participation and now bleeding market share to digital education platforms. The traditional classroom is an antiquated system that limits the value to the client (student) and fails to recognize that its global competition is producing a product that limits the competitive outcome it offers. The competition is outpacing traditional classrooms in generating access to advanced education environments. In this case, my brothers and sisters, whom I love dearly, are going to go extinct if they do not change the business model. For teachers, the value of walking out is already gone, as their work has been digitized and the danger they face is an online delivery that is much more effective than the in-class experience offered today. (As a sidebar I suggest they focus on the social interaction that’s available in-class only and frame it as producing the highest quality product available, redesign curriculum to the global view, adopt dual delivery that allows for online participation, and partner with community colleges on technical training to demonstrate much deeper value.)
But I digress. As we were framing for a solution to the strategic issues of one of our nation’s cornerstone industries. In this case – auto manufacturers and GM specifically – face the growing demand for a higher quality product at competitive pricing along with the daily pressures of stockholder demands. The efficiency modeling works great until you have positioned your organization to the point that the only solutions available require the management of external influence.
To that end, GM and others tried to redistribute some of their labor costs to other markets by sending assembly of new product lines to Mexico. In turn, Mexico cried foul when it became cheaper to make parts in Eastern Europe. Specifically, GM moved assembly of the Chevy Blazer from the United States to Mexico, and its parts are being made in Eastern Europe. This greatly reduces the amount of direct manufacturing that occurs in the United States. In order to reverse this move, UAW should equip its union members so that the next generation of work can return to the United States.
In order to deal with the market realities these players must come to the table with a renewed vision; labor should offer accelerated adoption of new technologies, working directly with suppliers to train their members and demand the prioritization of existing workers with product knowledge into a percentage of evolving jobs. This secures work for its membership and incentivizes members to get certified in new technology as it becomes adopted.
Further, the UAW has an opportunity around temporary workers to take a page out of the construction sector and create a dispatch system that offers seasoned temporary worker support to the company, as needed, with the ability to move those workers into permanent roles as market share grows and new products are produced. For its share, GM can offer exclusive assembly to UAW in a blended environment where robotics and other tools are readily adopted and the required workforce may shrink but becomes the priority as new jobs appear and folks can receive on-the-job training.
Much of this is already available and happening in some limited environments, but it’s time to swallow your meds and recognize the #WorldOfWork has changed and fear cannot be the driver. Put these folks back to work and negotiate for the future vision jobs not yesterday’s, create a path to that work for your members/employees, and recognize that you are competing against other leading global players that are years ahead in smart, green, hybrid, and other modeling that AMERICAN workers can build.
Daniel Villao is the former Deputy Administrator at the U.S. Department of Labor and Managing Partner at Intelligent Partnerships, Inc., a nationally-recognized subject matter expert on Inclusion Design, Author, and public speaker. Follow him on Instagram @DVillaoOfficial, read the blog at DanielVillao.com, and learn more about his consulting practice at ipartnerships.net. The views expressed are his own and o not represent he organizations he works for or their clients.
Further Reading: https://apnews.com/c54f47d7569c44d382995a3c3992eb53