ROBERT L. MARONIC: The UAW Strike Demand Of A Thirty-Two-Hour Workweek Is Absurd

In 1978 as a Roanoke College student I had a full-time summer job working as a union machinist for the American Can Company in Rochester, New York. My second-shift job was like manna from heaven because it paid $7.50 per hour when the minimum wage was $2.65 per hour.

My hourly wage was equivalent to $35.32 today, and there was plenty of overtime along with a shift differential. On Labor Day, which was my last day of employment, I made $22.50 per hour for an almost solitary eight-hour shift because it was a federal holiday before returning to college for the fall semester.

My job was often routinely and repetitively boring except when I occasionally had to load a dusty dimly lit boxcar full of empty motor oil cans in sweltering heat and humidity parked fifteen yards in front of my work area. I usually stood on a grated platform wearing mandatory earplugs about four yards above the floor, and pulled a shoulder-high lever loading topless tin cans from a noisy, metallic overhead shoot onto thin brown cardboard dividers, which were all resting on a wooden pallet.

When I had finished stacking about twenty-five rows on top of each other, I walked down the eight steps, and secured the sides of the pallet with a transparent clingy industrial-grade Saran Wrap. Then a forklift driver soon picked up the pallet, which totaled about twenty-five a shift, and took it to a nearby loading dock for transport via boxcar or tractor trailer.

The American Can Company had strict standards for shipment of its cans, and my omnipresent obese and at times severely grumpy supervisor Wally was more than happy to remind me.

Like the United Auto Workers (UAW) I belonged to a union and was well compensated for my labor thanks to my union. Unlike the UAW, I never participated in a strike against the American Can Company during my brief employment.

The UAW agreed on September 15 to strike against General Motors, Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) and Ford. Approximately 25,000 UAW members are presently on strike, who represent about 17% of the union at Detroit’s Big Three automakers.

So far, this strike has cost the auto industry $3.6 billion.

The UAW’s demands are essentially fourfold. They originally wanted a 46% pay increase, which is now 36%, a four-day work week with overtime after thirty-two hours, “union representation at new electric battery plants, and the end of employment tiers that created two classes of employees – one older that is better paid and receives more benefits and a second, younger tier that was hired after 2007.”

In plain words, the UAW wants a restoration of pensions for all employees.

The first demand of a 36% pay increase makes sense from the perspective of asking for a higher amount of money in the hope of realistically obtaining a lower amount such as a 20% increase or higher after a compromise. However, asking for a 36% pay increase along with a four-day work week with overtime after thirty-two hours is totally absurd.

While the UAW’s third demand, which GM agreed to on October 6 made a lot of sense, and their fourth demand is reasonable, the union’s first two demands when combined are untenable. However, that did not stop Joe Biden from becoming the first sitting U.S. president to join a picket line of dozens of strikers for ten minutes on September 26 at GM’s Willow Run parts distribution center in Belleville, Michigan, which is located twenty-nine miles southwest of Detroit.

Biden, who symbiotically did corporate bidding for the nation’s credit card companies along with a host of other companies from 1973 to 2009 as a Delaware senator, wore a black U.A.W. baseball cap, and loudly exclaimed through a bullhorn, “You deserve what you’ve earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you get paid now.”

What the crowd cheering Biden perhaps did not fully realize is that the president has conservatively allowed 3.8 million illegal aliens into the U.S., thereby greatly depressing the wages of many middle-class Americans with cheap labor not to mention serious problems related to fentanyl, organized crime (criminal gangs), public health concerns, sex trafficking and possible terrorism.

However, in regard to the UAW’s first demand for higher wages I must admit that corporate greed has become a chronic problem in the U.S., especially the wage-ratio gap between the average CEO and a typical worker’s pay. For example, General Motors CEO Mary Barra received about $28.98 million in total annual compensation in 2022 while the “median [GM] worker pay was $80,034”. It would take a typical GM worker 362 years to make Barra’s annual compensation.

Unfortunately, U.S. CEO pay has increased an astronomical 1,322% since 1978, and the UAW has my sympathy, but not for both a 36% pay increase and a nonsensical thirty-two-hour workweek.

– Robert L. Maronic

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