August 15, 2023
August 15, 2023
A conversation with Dave Green
The United Auto Workers has begun negotiations with Detroit's Big 3: Ford, Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) and GM. We sat down with David Green, UAW Region 2B Director, to learn how the next contract will shape the future of the auto industry for UAW members and non-members alike.
Zach Schiller, Policy Matters Research Director: The United Auto Workers has begun negotiations with the three Detroit auto companies for a new contract. The old contracts with GM, Ford and Stellantis, formerly Chrysler, expire on September 14th. We're sitting down here today with David Green, Director of UAW Region 2B, which covers Ohio and Indiana, to learn more about what's going on.
Before he was regional director, Dave was president of the UAW local in Lordstown, 1112. Before that plant closed and worked in Bedford, Indiana, and was just elected director of the region last year.
So thanks very much again, Dave, for joining us today. Tell us a little bit about where we are now. What kind of background is there to this negotiation so we can get into what the UAW really feels your members need?
David Green, UAW Region 2B Director: For the last 20 plus years, we've been really having a lot of concessionary contracts. And the reason this is so important for folks who aren't part of the Big Three is because, as our contracts and wages have gone up and as we've gotten gains, so all ships in the harbor have risen as well. Other industries, organizations, companies have to pay their workers more money as well.
We've seen concessionary agreements over the last couple of decades. So have a lot of other folks in different areas, sectors, regions, not necessarily just in the auto industry. The UAW has a long history of bargaining great contracts. And in those contracts, people in other industries would also get raises as well. So what we're fighting for is our members at the Big Three, our members in IPS (Independents, Parts & Suppliers) and the people who are not our members who work at non-unionized plants.
If we end up getting wage increases and better benefits, those employees will too, because the company knows if they don't raise the expectations for those workers, then they're going to go ahead and join the union. So that's one of the biggest anti-union campaigns out there is always to give those who aren't in a union the same benefits are very similar to those who are in a union.
ZS: What kind of wage increases have you seen over the past four years compared to inflation or to what the CEOs at the auto companies are making? How does that fit to what you may be looking for now?
DG: Yeah, So, you know, the CEOs making close to 400 times what the average workers are making is just criminal. Right. We want that. We want them to make good money. We want the companies to prosper and make good money, too. Our members just haven't received the justice that they've deserved over the years.
You know, in 2007, I was the president in Lordstown at Local 1714, going through a bankruptcy. And, you know, we had to do a lot of things, gave up a lot of things that our members benefits that our members had in order to save those companies. And the expectation was that we saved those companies. Right. We're going to take a haircut. You're taking a haircut. And hey, when it all starts growing back, we're all going to grow together. And that hasn't happened. CEO pay and and executive pay has skyrocketed. Our members' pay has stayed stagnant. Even with the 3% wage increases has not kept up with inflation. We've given up cost of living. We implemented these two tiers inside of our facilities, which just has created a lot of division.
So I think the pay has not kept up. We've got a lot of members who are leaving, right, especially in the skilled trades departments in the Big Three, they'll go through an apprenticeship program. You know, they're making 35, 36 bucks an hour inside the Big Three. They can go make 40, 50 bucks an hour on the outside. So they end up getting trained in a trade and then and then just leave. You know, it's just it's unheard of. And the production folks to come in work as a temp for two years. 15, 16, even 17 bucks an hour, you know, with the hope of getting hired maybe a few years down the road. And then, you know, you're talking years to get the full wages. People are going to work over a decade before they can get the full rate. And it's just not fair to those workers or their families. And so that's that's one of the big sticking points.
ZS: I wanted to ask you about the different tiers and what's happened there and how you're hoping to change it.
DG: Yeah, the big part of that is when we've got folks working side by side in a facility that did not have the same benefits, are not making the same pay rate. It creates division. We knew that, but wanted to help the companies survive. They've done extraordinarily well. Record profits as they like to say. And and so, you know, we want a record contract here. We believe that those workers working side by side at half the rate was was was intended to do more than save the company money. I think the company recognized that it would help create division inside of our organization. Members that don't they don't trust each other. Like, how come you're making more money than me? That really needs to end. We need to get everybody on the same page to have the same benefits, the same pay rates, and all across the board. And unless we can do that this round, I think it's it's not going to be a positive sign for us.
ZS: Does that include the temps too? I know one of the objectives or one of the goals in the list of priorities that have been set out is to end abuse of temps. I don't know how. I'm sure there are an awful lot of temps, but are you looking to just end the use of temps or how are you looking to correct that?
DG: Yeah, I mean, the way that the temp system is today is not the way it was when I started. I started in 1989 as a summer helper. Right? I worked my 89 days and they laid me off and then they would call me back if they needed me and I'd work another 89 days. And then, you know, you come back later. There's always a need for summer help for temporary workers who are truly temporary. But what this has turned into over the last at least a decade is these temps have now become permanent employees. Right? They're there all year, for years, like two years before they're even, you know, being able to be considered to be hired. It's unjust and it's unfair. So I think that's what we're we're trying to get out of that. Look, there's going to be some temporary workers. We recognize that's the industry specifically around summer help, just like it had been for years and years. A lot of people want to take a summer vacation and manufacturing doesn't run well without human hand touching and spinning the wheel.
So we recognize there's going to be a need. At least I do.But this abuse of the temp workforce, which has really become ignorant in my personal opinion, really needs to stop.
ZS: I think one of the reasons that we were especially interested in talking with you and that the interest in these negotiations is especially high is because of the transition that's occurring in the auto industry with the move to electric vehicles and the creation of or announcements of large numbers of battery plants. Many of which I know are joint ventures between the auto companies and others. And we have one, of course, right here in Lordstown that you've organized, which we're really happy to see that that's happened. We also know that the people in those plants are not being paid UAW master contract wages. So I'm interested in getting a better sense for what you'd like to see the contract do for the Lordstown battery plant, for the battery plants in general and even more broadly, what do you want to see as the industry makes these investments? What's the worker take on this?
DG: Well, look, the batteries are the drive trains of the future, right? I mean, if we're transitioning from ICE or internal combustion engines to electric vehicles, the engine, the transmission, the exhaust system, all these ICE parts will end up going away. And the batteries are going to be that drive train of the vehicle. We believe that our members — who've been building cars forever — should be part of that drive train transition.
The last thing we want to do is transition into EV or see the companies transition [excuse me], vehicles into the EV market, leaving our workers in the dust where there's no workers left to transition into EV because they're all, you know, if you're making transmissions and engines, recognizing that production assembly for vehicle will probably be somewhat similar, although requires a lot less people, at least a third less is is from all the statistics I've seen. So we want to make sure that our members have a just transition. The people who've been working in the industry for decades or even ten, 15 years and are trying to get trying to get to that top rate. And then, you know, this EV comes on line and they get kicked out the door. That's not fair. That's not just it's not right, smart or fair. And so I think that's that's that's one of the biggest challenges. And yeah, these folks at Ultium you know, at $16.50 an hour is what they're coming in at. They got to work like seven years to get up to 20 bucks. And it's again, it's not right. It's smart, not smart, it's not fair. And and they're having an extremely high turnover rate because you could go make that kind of money, you know, flipping burgers — and not that that's super easy. There's dignity in that work, too, but it's a lot less dangerous than mixing chemicals for lithium ion batteries.
ZS: I see that you have gotten some support on this from Sherrod Brown and most of the Democratic senators. I see a sentence from them where they say "it's unacceptable and a national disgrace that the starting wage at any current American joint venture electric vehicle battery facility is $16 an hour." And I see also that President Biden made a statement. While it wasn't quite that direct, he did say that he wanted to "transition to a clean energy future, that that's fair and look to retool, reboot and rehire in the same factories and communities as comparable to comparable wages while giving existing workers the first shot to fill all those jobs."
And it would seem as if this is especially important here in Ohio, where we have, you know, engine and transmission plants. I don't I don't know if we're number two to Michigan, but we're right up there. I know with workers who are likely to be affected, as you've described. So I don't know if there's more to say about that beyond what you already have or if you think there's a possibility you could get an agreement at Ultium, even if it isn't part of the master agreement. But the idea, I'm sure, would be to get an overall agreement covering all of these plants like the Ford one and in Marshall, Michigan, and, you know, all of these others that have been announced.
DG: Yeah. And it's the part independent parts supplier. So I mean, part of it is big three for sure. But we've identified just in region 2B which is Ohio and Indiana, some 5000 jobs that will possibly be eliminated. People who make mufflers. Right. 12 volt batteries there. Certain things that are being produced for the automotive industry that won't be needed when it comes online. Right. Those are those components. So our research department has been working with us, trying to identify those specific locations. I would love to have conversations with the owners of those locations to try to get some government money on transitioning into a different product moving forward, Just because the parts that you're making today aren't going to be viable tomorrow don't mean you can't start looking towards the future. There's government money out there. Look, the the battery manufacturing facilities are getting billions, billions of dollars to transition into these into this new technology. And that's great, right? But those workers should be getting their fair share, too. And then it's not just getting your fair share, but we're really trying to focus on making sure our members aren't left in the cold as this transition happens.
You're making a good point here, too, that there's a great deal of government support going to help this happen, whether it's through loans to the companies, whether it's through credits to car buyers, whether it's for infrastructure to create charging stations, you name it. I mean, we've got many billions of dollars being spent, more money to help create that. And so if we're going to spend all of this money on helping that happen, then we should make sure that the workers who are affected are not left out in the cold, as you say. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what you're looking for in the way of job security in this new agreement.
DG: Just being able to strike over plant closures. I think that's an important piece. And look, I've gone through a plant closure, right? I was in Lordstown when we were first unallocated, which the company used a different language that was in our contract really to skirt their contract obligations to the employees. We're still fighting to get made whole from that ordeal. Part of that has gone to arbitration and our members are still waiting to be made whole from 2019. It's very frustrating that that can't happen or hasn't happened up to this point. So being able to strike over plant closures I think is an important part of what we're looking for here. And just having that job security. And I know that companies are going to say, you have to earn it. We have earned it. And make no mistake, when our members after you work so many years in manufacturing like this, you end up sore and broken knees, broken backs, bad shoulders, carpal tunnel. These jobs take a toll on our health. So making sure that we can protect those jobs, that those plants are going to stay open through the life of the agreement, which is generally what we've done in the past, is extremely important and not let these companies just go ahead and close mid-agreement when they have already agreed not to close any facilities and they close them anyway.
ZS: There's also something that's referred to as the Working Family Protection program. What is that exactly?
DG: I don't know if you ever heard of the jobs bank: It was controversial issue where, you know, if you're going to lay all put all these people off, people thought, well, they just put you in a room and pay you. What they should be doing is then letting those workers go out to the community and work at United Way, work at some charity. Big Brothers, Big Sisters. And then they can spend their time serving in their communities. A lot of our members do this voluntarily anyway. You know, we've been huge advocates. I think the entire UAW is not just fighting for workers' rights, but it's social justice and fighting and helping people in our community. And so, you know, we'd like to see that. We'd like to see that return.
ZS: One other area that I wanted to at least touch on is retirees. What you're looking for there, whether it's in pay or benefits or what have you.
DG: I think it's both. Our retiree pensions haven't seen any increase in like 20 years. Our retirees used to get some Christmas bonus and some extra moneys. And then through bankruptcy, lost all that. And so it's really difficult for folks once they retire. Now, I recognize it's retirement. You've got to save your money, have a pension, you got what you have. But if these companies are making record profits, the people who made them those record profits deserve a little bit of something. So the retirees are very important in these negotiations. We've talked a lot about it over the last year leading up to this. And we want to make sure that they get a piece of that pie because they've earned it. They deserve it. And it's the right thing to do.
ZS: Critics say that these demands are unrealistic, that the companies won't be able to compete, etc., etc. What do you say to those folks?
DG: I think they're wrong. When the company was struggling, we were willing to give up. If they're making record profits, we want a piece of it. I don't think that's too much to ask. And if the companies start falling behind, then they come back to the table like they always have. And we'll make those sacrifices like we always have. But it can't be a one way street here. You can't expect the workers to stay stagnant and not move when the companies profits are continually going up. We really need to try to get on par. So as the company does very well, we expect the employees to be treated very well. If the company is struggling, as we have in the past, we'll go back to the table and work on that. But right now, things are good for them and not so good for our members.
ZS: So what can people who are sympathetic to the union do? How would people best follow what's going on?
DG: Well, there are different links at UAW.org, which is the International Union website on each of the Big Three, so people can see what's going on. And if we end up going out on strike that we get support from the community. Because the reality is that the wages that we get, those spill over to other industries, other sectors. So what we're doing out there, fighting for better wages and fair work agreements is something that will really benefit all workers if we're successful.
And cost of living is important to us as well this time around because we've seen what happened with inflation. This is something that I think all employers should have attached to workers' wages and benefits because you just can't expect your employees to eat all the cost of inflation, especially when things go south in our economy and those people need to be protected. Unless we want to give them more government money because they can't pay their bills and let people go bankrupt, that's not acceptable.
So, finding some cost of living adjustment so working families can have dignity in their work and make a fair, equitable pay as in good times — and cost of living adjustments, if the rate of inflation goes down, then they take money out of your paycheck. We're fine with that. When things go that way, then we go that way. But when when everything's moving up, we expect to rise with the tide.
1 of 22