Deadline Now: Kristin Dziczek and Mike Smith: Auto Industry Update
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Deadline Now: Kristin Dziczek and Mike Smith: Auto Industry Update

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jack Lessenberry hosts an update on the U.S. auto industry. His special guests this week are Kristin Dziczek, Director of the Labor and Industry Group for the non-profit Center for Automotive Research, based in Ann Arbor, as well as Mike Smith, Archivist for the UAW Collection at Wayne State University's Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs. Mr. Smith is also Archivist for the Library's Jewish community collection.

The Center for Automotive Research (CAR), a nonprofit organization, is focused on a wide variety of important trends and changes related to the automobile industry and society at the international, federal, state and local levels.

CAR conducts industry research, develops new methodologies, forecasts industry trends, advises on public policy, and sponsors multi-stakeholder communication forums.

The Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs is the largest labor archive in North America. Its mission is to collect, preserve and provide access to the documentary and visual heritage of the American labor movement, related reform movements and individual participants.

The United Automobile Workers of America (UAW) is the primary union within the American automobile industry. Founded in 1935, the UAW became one of the most powerful unions in the United States, both on the shop floor and within the American polity.

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Here are Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for this edition of Deadline Now:

Three years ago, we were just beginning to learn the full dimensions of the disastrous shape the auto industry was in. It seemed possible that one or more of what used to be called the Big Three would vanish completely. That presented the very real possibility of a new Great Depression, at least for this part of the world. Yet the auto industry has survived, after a fashion.

Ford, General Motors, and now even Chrysler are making money again. However, that‘s in large part because they are much smaller than they used to be. They don’t need to sell as many cars to be profitable, which is good. Except that is also true in part because they don’t have as many plants, or employees.

The vast majority of the blue-collar auto plant jobs that existed thirty-some years ago are gone -- at least, when we are talking about jobs working for one of the Detroit Three, jobs whose workers are organized by the United Auto Workers union.

When the auto companies hire new workers these days, they are paying them far less per hour than they used to. Those wages are scheduled to gradually increase over the life of this contract, but not to reach parity with the old workers. It is very hard to imagine a second-tier wage earner being able to afford a home and one of the new cars he or she assembles with their hands.

That’s the new reality we are living with.  We are still going to have a domestic auto industry for the foreseeable future, and it is going to be relatively important. But here’s what’s equally important to remember: The days when you could come out of high school without any real skills and get a good paying auto job are over.

They are gone, and they are never coming back.

That’s something we need to make sure everyone understands for the sake of our community, our economy and our society.

The United Auto Workers have another crisis of their own. They have been stunningly unsuccessful at organizing any of the “transplants,” auto factories, in America, but owned by automakers we think of as foreign -- Honda and Toyota, for example.

Foreign nameplates are now accounting for an ever-increasing domestic market share. If UAW President Bob King fails in his mission to begin organizing the transplants, it is hard to see how his union has much of a long-term future. We’ll be watching.