DETROIT – In a wide ranging end-of-year Q and A with journalists from Detroit and across the country, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Dennis Williams spoke freely on issues affecting the UAW, labor and working people generally.
Addressing “inequality” in both the workplace and the community was a common thread.
He noted Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was “absolutely” right to be concerned with the loosening of safeguards on Wall St. banks. The economy is growing for Wall St. but not Main St., declared Williams. When he first started working in the 1970’s, Williams noted, CEO pay averaged 42 times greater than that of workers; today, it’s 360 or 380 times as much. He warned the growing wealth gap threatens our democracy and is “unacceptable.”
He said the union is “dead against” fast tracking the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) saying NAFTA didn’t raise the standard of living of Mexican or South American workers, forced Mexican farmers off the land and resulted in lowering the wages for U.S. manufacturing workers. Six hundred thousand manufacturing jobs in the U.S. pay $8.60 an hour; “We don’t want to repeat that with TPP.”
Another wage gap the UAW expects to close is in its own plants. Next year will see the UAW bargain for new contracts with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Williams said UAW members made “huge sacrifices” during the auto crisis of 2008 and 2009, the companies are now profitable and it’s time workers are rewarded. Entry level workers start at $15.78 an hour and increase every 12 months up to $19.28 an hour. Closing the gap between second tier workers and first tier (average wage of $28) is a priority for the union in negotiations.
Williams said the union’s success in organizing VW’s Chattanooga plant can spur union growth in the region. We’re not “newcomers” to organizing in the South. “We believe workers want collective bargaining.” That’s when the U.S. economy “did best,” he said. He called “alarming” the increasing use of temporary workers that in reality work as permanent workers. He calls them “perma-temps” and accused employers of taking advantage of labor laws to grow a low wage, non-union workforce.
At Nissan’s U.S. plants 40 to 50 percent of the workforce is temporary, hired by an outside staffing agency, making organizing more difficult. Williams said that “throughout the industry, people should be “paid the same.”
Asked his thinking on the struggle of fast food workers for a living wage, Williams said having a minimum wage of $15 is “very important.”
“It brings a new movement to this country and we want them to be more vocal.”
“I’m excited.” It’s a chance to “take back the country.”
Photo: John Rummel/PW