Autoworkers ask who will share the pain
Parnell E. Johnson Jr. spent 35 years at Ford Motor Co., still too
young, he says, to retire at 54.
But like thousands of other Ford lifers, he's nonetheless retired. Which
doesn't mean Ford's intent to seek a 30 percent cut in its "all-in"
$71-an-hour labor costs during this summer's national contract talks
still doesn't infuriate him.
"Isn't it a shame Ford has to cut labor cost 30 percent (the little
guys), but no mention about the top guy perks, stock options, bonuses,
what else do they want," he wrote in the first of two e-mails responding
to my Wednesday column on Ford's plans. "I had to retire after 35 years
and now worry if my so-called pension and health care will last.
"These top guys would never have to worry about that. They could drive
Ford's company into the ground and still be set for life, while the
people that made the product for years get the royal shaft. You want
cuts? Then upper management must step to the plate, also."
United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger couldn't have said it
better himself. As Detroit's automakers and the UAW prepare for
watershed negotiations this summer, the most unpredictable element will
be how people who think like Johnson -- and there are lots of them --
react to whatever the talks produce.
There will be no agreements at General Motors Corp., Ford or Chrysler
without the approval of hourly folks. To some, that's no way to run a
company. To others, it's the way it should be. To all of them, it is
what it is.
Johnson and others who e-mail regularly or post their outrage on message
boards read the press, surf the Internet, watch local news and muster a
familiar refrain: They know Ford CEO Alan Mulally's "all-in" pay package
is somewhere north of $28 million, a big chunk paid in his first months.
They've seen the stories of Ford's Americas boss, Mark Fields, flying
the corporate jet home to Florida on weekends. Not anymore, but that he
Perceptions beget 'reality'
They can't understand how GM can blow billions on apparently failed
foreign adventures, or field cruddy cars with names like Aztek, then
plead poverty. They don't trust that bankrupt Delphi Corp. should, in
fact, be in federal bankruptcy court.
Or that Detroit's automakers really do need labor-cost parity with
foreign rivals like Toyota operating in the United States, however
clearly they see -- and they do -- the decline of Detroit and the rise
of the Asians here.
Quibble all you want about reality; debate the hard business facts;
argue the global auto game of growth and investment. These perceptions
are reality to thousands of Detroit's hourly workers and their retiree
You haven't heard it lately, but it won't be long -- I'm thinking weeks
-- before the words "shared sacrifice" start bubbling up again. You want
more from the union? Show the union you'll share the pain by deferring
bonuses or lengthening vesting schedules on options and restricted stock.
Like it or not, the Detroit auto industry captained today by Mulally,
GM's Rick Wagoner and Chrysler's Tom LaSorda is a shared enterprise.
Management has the responsibility to deliver the results, but the
results it delivers are materially impacted by its relationship with
Make like Marie Antoinette and you're toast. Ignoring the symbolism of
your actions imperils your credibility. And the more you want, the
bigger toast you'll be because however much the union leadership may
"get" the dire challenges facing the companies -- and I think
Gettelfinger's brass does "get it" -- if they can't sell the troops on
it, it ain't gonna happen.