Low-wage autoworkers win union

autoworkers_0505On April 14, low-wage workers had a nationwide strike demanding “$15 and a union.”

Now, workers at Detroit Chassis in Avon, Ohio, at least have a union. The 58 workers, who assemble axles for a nearby Ford plant that builds heavy-duty trucks, were all temporary contract workers employed by a staffing agency. Not a single one worked directly for Detroit Chassis, a Detroit-based company that recently opened the Avon factory.

It did not take long for the workers to realize they needed a union. Knowing that they could shut down the Ford assembly plant that they supplied in less than a day, on April 17 the workers voted unanimously to strike for union recognition. Before the strike had even begun, however, Detroit Chassis agreed to recognize the United Auto Workers as the workers’ bargaining representative.

Their hourly wages range from $9.50 to $11.50 and they get no paid holidays, vacations, sick time or health insurance. They had falsely been led to believe that once they got their foot in the door, there would be a path to permanent, full-time employment. Now, with a union, that is finally happening.

Over the past decade, “real wages” — wages adjusted for inflation — have fallen nine times faster in the auto parts industry than in the economy as a whole. Now, one of every 10 autoworkers makes $9.60 an hour or less, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project. The census statistics do not include workers hired by temporary agencies, who are often at the bottom of the pay scale and receive no benefits. By forcing down wages while auto sales are at an all-time high, Ford and General Motors are making the biggest profits in their many decades of existence.

Unionizing the auto parts sector is critical to the UAW. Over 70 percent of this country’s autoworkers now make parts; only 30 percent actually assemble vehicles. Less than 30 percent of parts workers are unionized. Following organizing gains at Alabama and Michigan parts plants, winning recognition at Detroit Chassis is a huge and much-needed victory.