Sunday, April 26, 2009

Buzz Hargrove: You Are Retired, Act Like It

Well, it appears the supposedly retired Buzz Hargrove is managing to get his mug on the news and in the paper again. Buzz, do you know what retired is? Now everyone is allowed to have an opinion, but Buzz's most recent comments are puzzling, bordering on idiotic. So let's take a look at what Buzz has to say on the just completed concession negotiations:

"I'm angry as hell. I'm not angry at my union, they've done an incredible job. I'm angry at a government. A government that has used a heavy hand -- Mr. Clement and Mr. Bryant, the provincial government as well -- to force workers to give up things that they've worked hard and gained over the years," he told CTV's Question Period."

So I have to ask Buzz, why are you angry at the two levels of government, whose taxpayer dollars supplied to GM and Chrysler are the only thing preventing a liquidation of the two companies? In fact Buzz, as a recent retiree, you should be ecstatic that government loans are being provided to prevent a liquidation that might very well have cost you some if not all of your pension and benefits. Do the cuts hurt? Absolutely, but in the big picture they were necessary. The fact that workers and retirees are able to maintain their current level of wages and pension benefits should be considered a huge win.

What this means for Canadian workers, as well as all Canadian's who prosper from a strong auto-sector, is the fact we have maintained an advantage that should encourage investment by all auomotive manufacturers. Windsor remains the sole-source builder of Chrysler mini-vans, and Brampton is on tap to build the new 300, Charger, Challenger, and 200C. This supplies a good wage for the workers, tax revenue for all levels of governments, and will allow the communities of Brampton and Windsor to prosper, anything from coffee shops to car dealerships. This also saves thousands of jobs in the Canadian parts sector, many of those jobs being performed by fellow CAW members..

So here is a freindly suggestion Buzz. Enjoy that pension you have earned. Spend time with family and friends. Do the things you enjoy doing but never had the time to do as head of the CAW. Drop into the plants every now and then to say hello to former co-workers. Stay away from the cameras. In other words, start acting retired.
UPDATE: Brian has had some wonderful posts on his blog in the past At Home In Hespeler. This link will take you to the relevant stories on his blog regarding Buzz Hargrove and the CAW.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why Ken Lewenza Is Wrong, and Right

First let me start off by thanking everyone who has viewed this blog, regardless of which side of this issue you stand. And never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be quoted in both the National and Financial Post. I still stand on my opinions posted previously regarding CAW head Ken Lewenza's refusal to concede anything further than the concessions already given to GM. To his credit, and many GM, Ford, and Chrysler workers relief, he now appears to be softening that stance. So while the title of this post might be confusing. Lewenza is both right and wrong at the same time. Let's review.
Ken Lewenza is wrong because:
1. Without further concessions, neither the American nor Canadian governments will provide any further financial loans. This would have the effect of throwing both GM and Chrysler in front of a bankruptcy court in weeks, if not days. It would also immediately close a number of parts factories, many of them unionized.
2. While $19 per hour is a big hit, it is a cut that does not affect your hourly wage or current pension level. In other words, you will see no change on your weekly paycheck or pension cheque. Yes, you will be out some money from co-pays and such but that would be minimal.
3. Public opinion! Whether Lewenza is right or wrong in his stance, it's the average worker feeling the wrath of the general public. Read newspaper comments, blogs, listen to people at Timmies. Everyone seems to think its the guys and girls on the line that are the problem, when in fact the problem is much deeper than that.
4. Leading by example. Rather than play the blame game, with management and bondholders refusing to give anything up until the union does, and vice-versa, do our part first. Perhaps the union should go public after giving up the concessions with what management should concede, and then get the government to put the pressure on them in the same way. No further assistance until everyone from the CEO down also concedes a comparable cut to benefits and perqs.

Now lets look at why Ken Lewenza is right:
1. Cerberus, which owns Chrysler, and is made up of a number of billionaires with available funds totalling in excess of $18 billion, refuses to invest their own money into Chrysler. I'm sure in the event of a bankruptcy Cerberus will want to be first in line when liquidation begins, even if that means looting pension funds.
2. A newspaper report a few days ago is deeply disturbing. Chrysler dealers have been reporting they are losing between 25%-40% of sales because buyers cannot get financing. That is, the dealership has a signed sales contract but the buyer cannot obtain funds. This was improved recently by both governments when they provided funds to both GMAC and Chrysler Financial. Now here is the disgusting part. Obama recently offered Chrysler Financial another $750 million in funds, with the caveat that there would be a cap on executive salaries and bonuses. Now you would think a company in dire circumstances, who are demanding that workers take a 26% pay cut, would jump at the financial help, right? Nope, Cerberus, and Chrysler Financial turned down the $750 million, and got it elsewhere at a higher interest rate, all in the name of maintaining salaries and bonuses for executives.
Now let me quote another great blog, called At Home In Hespeler.
The author of this blog is Brian Gardiner, who is a co-worker at Brampton Assembly, and it was Brian's most recent blog entry that inspired me to do this post. The following is a partial take of Brian's blog posting, and it really shows the ineptitude of management as well as the corporate greed that got us into this mess: "Just over ten years ago, successful, profitable Chrysler had a bankroll that was rumoured to be close to $10B. This was money that properly belonged to the stockholders, who had forfeited dividends to create a cushion, they were told, for the next time there is a downturn in the industry. That downturn came in early 2000, and the money was gone. Somehow, the money made it’s way back to Germany, somehow, Chrysler had no money. Daimler, it could be well argued, profited nicely from the “merger of equals.”
In 2007, Cerberus capital picked up 80% of Chrysler, as well as Chrysler financial. They also own GMAC, GMs financing arm. The extremely profitable Cerberus, has refused to put any of it’s assets into helping Chrysler, deeming it bad investment. That’s a problem, but here’s worse. The financial arm of Chrysler and GM, both Cerberus owned, heavily tightened rules regarding leasing. People buying cars these days report they can’t get financing through Chrysler credit: off to the banks they must go. So the ownership of Cerberus won’t invest in Chrysler, the financial arm of Chrysler, owned by Cerberus won’t loan people money to buy cars. And finally, Chrysler Financial won’t be taking $750M in federal bailout money, it is reported, because executives don’t want limits on their pay.
These are the people I am supposed to take a pay cut to help?
A new player on the scene is Fiat. Here’s their idea: they pay $0.00, they assume debt equalling $0.00 and they get 20% equity in Chrysler. The condition, I have to take a pay cut. In short, Fiat will take the 20% with no risk only if I, and my fellow workers, buy it for them."

And finally, I would like to thank Joanne at Blue Like You. This is in my opinion the best political blog out there, always well written,thoughtful posts, great opinions expressed in comments. Joanne's blog is what all bloggers should use as both a template and inspiration.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Attention Ken Lewenza: You are playing with people's lives.

One of the hardest hit industries from the current global economic downturn is the auto manufacturing sector, particularly GM and Chrysler. As a 30 year CAW member and 24 year Chrysler employee I am dismayed every day to read the latest ramblings from CAW head Ken Lewenza. Equally disappointing are the almost daily appearances of the supposedly retired former CAW head Buzz Hargrove. Guys, pay attention here.

You are playing Russian roulette here with thousands of peoples jobs and lives. The problem is you seem to have loaded a bullet in every chamber of the gun.

Reading comments in various media on a daily basis, it appears everybody gets it but you. The CAW has done a fantastic job in representing the workers in the past, and the Big 3 have been generous with our pay and benefits in good times. But the fact is these are no longer good times, and drastic action must be taken to ensure the viability of these companies. I realize giving something up seems foreign to you, but it is now a matter of necessity. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have stepped up to the table when they had no obligation to do anything.

Now it's our turn to step up to the table. Many of the things the companies are asking for will provide no major hardships to the workers. Let's take a look at some of the things talked bout.

1. Legal Plan: This is a taxable benefit, and costs each worker roughly $150 per year. Most workers only access the plan when buying a home, and this is only covered once every few years. Give it up, it saves the company money and most workers won't notice much of a differance, many will save money.

2. Remaining Spa week. The union has already showed leadership by giving up one week in the last contract. Give up the other. The fact is we never even had spa weeks until the mid 90's. The time off is nice but having a job is nicer.

3. Tuition Coverage. This was a wonderful idea when it was first negotiated, but the fact is most children of workers attending college or university work as tpt's in the plant, drawing an excellant wage to assist with the cost of their education.

4. Massage therapy, orthotics, etc.: This is another example of something that will provide a cost savings to the company with little effect on most workers. Seems like a no-brainer.

5. Out of province health care coverage: To be honest, I never even knew we had this. But if I'm not mistaken healtlh insurance coverage can be optained for travelling fairly cheap. Again, this would not affect most workers, and would give the company substantial savings on costs.

6. Two-Tier Wages: I know both you and Buzz have been steadfast in your refusal to consider this , but the fact is the UAW have already conceded this. You really can't believe any of the automakers would invest in Canada when newly hired workers in the U.S. make half the wage, do you? Perhaps that is the reason GM chose the Oshawa truck plant be closed rather than the American or Mexican plants. Surely you can't believe GM would close the top quality and productivity truck assembly plant if it was cost-competitive to build trucks there.

These are just a few examples to allow these companies to get back to profitability. Here is a suggestion from a lowly worker on the line. Take the pain and do what needs to be done. Down the road when things turn around, then you can begin to negotiate for improvements. If you decide to keep your heels dug in and plants start to close, I'm not sure of any explanation you can give to those workers standing in the unemployment line, the ones whose best interests is your job to protect.