Sunday, October 21, 2007
The new blog is Tom's Place. (tomsplaceblog.wordpress.com)
See you there!
Friday, October 19, 2007
Coming into work this morning, I heard on the radio that Chrysler's St. Louis Plant "overwhelmingly" voted down the national contract by an 81% vote while the Kenosha Wisconsin plant approved it with an 82% margin. Our voting will take place tomorrow afternoon, and it will be interesting to say the least.
I received a copy of the summary of the contract (salaried summary and hourly summary) a couple of days ago, and from what I read, I wasn't impressed. In fact, I was alarmed. Of course there are numerous items that I read that didn't strike me as being favorable to the Union Membership, and there just didn't seem to be much that the Company was giving up.
One of the items that I noticed was a change in COLA. COLA is very important to me - no one likes to see their paycheck lose it's purchasing power. The new formulation could actually reduce what I take home.
The next item I noticed is the wording of job security concerning life cycles of products. Who determines life-cycles of products? Management does. While there is a moratorium on idling or closing plants, that doesn't mean that the plants cannot be cut back to a minimal production and staffing level. While this can happen underneath the auspices of a revised business climate, and the company is certainly entitled to take these actions, what bothers me is that the Union Leadership is touting an increased job security level for its members through this agreement. Last, the summary does not state any commitments by Chrysler to the plants beyond the terms of agreement, which is true job security.
And it goes on...
I understand that one of the Union's chief negotiators is speaking out and wanting a return to the bargaining table, and a website (www.soldiersofsolidarity.com) has posted his letter to the rest of the Union leaders advocating this action. Additionally, the website has posted the following objections to the proposed contract agreement:
UAW-Chrysler 2007 Lowlights
Rather than compare what we got to what we had, the UAW-Chrysler “NEWSGRAM” makes bread crumbs look like meat and potatoes by comparing what bargainers gave away to what the company wished to take away.
“Chrysler had an agenda that was nothing but cutbacks.”
“Your bargaining team successfully resisted the company’s demand to cut your pay.”
Ignore the sales pitch and study the numbers. Not only will .10 cents per quarter be deducted from COLA raises but an additional $1.01 will also be deducted. As a result “your bargaining team successfully” cut $2.51 per hour over the life of the agreement. That is $100 per 40 hour week.
Lump sum payments are here today, gone tomorrow. Raises and cost of living adjustments are here today, and grow tomorrow. COLA and annual raises compound quarterly and pay dividends, week after week after week. COLA diversions compound deductions, month after month after month.
On top of that, new hires will start at $14 per hour, a standard well below the nonunion manufacturing average of $19.62 as cited by the UAW Research Department [www.uaw.org/facts/index.cfm]. Wages will be frozen for the next four years, but in 2011 everyone will be degraded.
Are you “core” or “non-core”? First class or second class? And what is the value of seniority if you can never transfer to a better job? The parties agreed “to consolidate classifications” [pg 121].
There will be two classifications among “core” workers: Team Member or Team Leader. “Every employee is a Team Member; there are no specialty job classifications.” [pgs 227-228]
Core workers will not be allowed to transfer to the better “non-core” jobs. If a worker is currently in a non-core job, they will be “red circled”. Management will have a powerful motivation to remove you and replace you with someone who will earn half as much.
“The parties have identified Non-Core product and process work totaling 8,000 jobs represented by the UAW that will be retained through a moratorium on outsourcing” [pg 159]. BUT in an “UNPUBLISHED LETTER” the parties agree “to meet and establish initial guidelines and parameters within 120 days of ratification that will be used to determine the application of the MOU” [pg 308]
In other words, we haven’t heard the last word. There’s more to come, including, “The parties will also determine appropriate application of core/non-core provisions to future Temporary Part Time (TPT) employees” [pg 308]. The future is increasingly temporary [see pg143].
Three facilities— Toledo Machining, Detroit Axle, and Marysville Axle — will be designated entirely non-core [pgs 154-155]. Nineteen Parts depots will be designated entirely non-core [pg 168]. All transport workers will be designated non-core [pg 151].
Despite the job security brouhaha in the “Newsgram”, all insourcing is “dependent upon a favorable business case” [pgs 159-160]. And despite the so called moratorium on outsourcing, the parties have “agreed to exit” janitorial, cardboard disposal, trash handling, ground, lawn care, snow removal, line sweepers, booth cleaning, machine cleaning, and chip handlers [pg 302]. But that’s just the beginning.
Skilled trades will be systematically reduced [pgs. 274-280]. “...any given classification may perform work normally belonging to another classification” [pg 275]
Forty-eight skilled classifications “will be incorporated into the Work Group Model based upon plant needs” [pgs 276-277].
“Implementation of the basic trade classifications into the Natural Work Groups is expected to occur no later than the end of the 2nd quarter, 2008” [pg 279].
Retirees were not spared. The VEBA is less than 50% funded. “In reality, the $11 billion you paid to get the health-benefit liabilities off your books will soon look outrageously cheap” [www.portfolio.com/executives/features/2007/10/11/Rescue-Memo]. But in reality, it’s $7.1 billion cash for $19 billion in liability. What’s a “debenture” to a private equity company? They can print stock at Kinkos. A seventeen year old prom queen wouldn’t buy that line from a quarterback in a tux.
According to Newsgram: “The company will pay an additional $1.5 billion to pay for retiree benefits from now until 2010 when the VEBA becomes operational.”
The company was already legally obligated to pay for retiree health care as a result of previous contracts. There was nothing “additional” about it.
If $1.5 billion is needed to cover retiree health care for the next two years, $8.8 billion will not last more than twelve years. Hence, the repeated phrases, “provide benefits at modified levels,” and “trustees will have the authority to make benefit adjustments” predict further rollbacks.
Stand your ground. There’s nowhere to run.
Labor Donated by Soldiers of Solidarity [www.soldiersofsolidarity.com ]
During our brief strike, many of us mused on the picket line what was going on at the bargaining table. After finding ourselves back at work the next day, it seemed that the strike was only for show. A comment in this article seemed to echo this sentiment:
The short strikes may have been more for show than an actual inability of the parties to agree on a new labor contract said David Cole, chairman of Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It’s hard to know what the real rationale was for the strikes, but it seems they were something designed to show that what the automakers and the union had agreed on was really important,” Cole said. “Now they can go to their members and say we have made concessions on wages and on health care costs, but we have fought for an agreement on job security.”
Did the Union negotiate a good agreement? I personally don't think so. Did they negotiate in good faith to the Membership? I think they did, but I also think that they gave up too much in wages and COLA for the sake of VEBA.
Whether or not we will ratify this agreement will depend on the voting this week, or if it's back to the table. In either case, it will be interesting.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
As if we don't have enough to decide or worry about, it's always something new. So I'm faced with a decision...
What is it, you may ask?
Is it who I'm going to vote for in the primaries and general election? Will it be Queen Hillary, Breck Edwards, Baba Obama, Tepid Thompson, Grinning Guiliani, or Ramrod Romney? I'm not telling, but it won't be a Democratic candidate...
Is it going to be on an issue such as immigration reform, universal health care, Union activities, or defending my Constitutional Rights? Well, sorta, but not quite.
I'm thinking about moving this blog to another service such as Wordpress.com.
Don't get me wrong!! Blogger has been a great service for this exercise in free speech. But I'm always looking for something better, or maybe just different.
But there are some downsides. Currently, there is no way to back up your posts, so unless you keep copies of your posts somewhere, you could lose all of your work if Google/Blogger takes an unrecoverable dump without a way to restore the posts. With HaloScan, you do need a premium account to have the capability of exporting your blog's comments, so that is an option. But if you don't have posts to link the comments to, you're hosed anyway.
Another downside is that I like to write my posts offline and then upload them using Microsoft's Live Writer Beta. Even though it is made by Microsoft, it does a pretty decent job. The part about using this editor is that it will not allow me to add tags or categories to the posts that I'm writing. After submitting the post to be published, I then need to log into Blogger, access the posts editor, and then select the post just published and select the tags for that post. Just a bit cumbersome for my taste...
Last, to view all of this wonderful information from StatCounter and HaloScan requires that I log into each service separately. Yes, maybe I'm nitpicking somewhat, especially for what I'm getting for free, but I still need to see what's out there and may offer something better for the long run.
On the plus side, posting with tags & categories is handled very well by Live Writer as well as other offline editors. Posts and comments can be exported to a XML file for importation into another Wordpress blog, whether it is another one on Wordpress.com or your own private website/blog (which is a long-term goal of mine). There is even the option of importing Blogger posts and comments (not HaloScan, though) into Wordpress.com, although there are some application notes for importing HaloScan comments back into Blogger and then importing everything into Wordpress.
So it comes down to a couple of questions: Is Wordpress worth moving to? And if it is, is it worth importing this site's posts to the new one and either manually or automatically moving the comments, or just start fresh?
More importantly, is it content that you are looking for, or the presentation, and will you link to the new site? (Personally, I think it's the content that's important, but that's me...)
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Against all my fears, we walked out of the building shortly after 11:00 this morning and headed for the picket line. Not a good feeling, I assure you.
I would much rather have been at my desk earning a living. But that's not the case.
My first taste on carrying a sign this afternoon was mixed. Yeah, there were those idiots that screamed and hollered at foreign cars as they turned in, and those that behaved like children on recess, but for the most part, things were well behaved. That could change if this lasts more than a week.
Second time around is tomorrow morning at 6:00 am. Not looking forward to it - it promises to be a cold morning with rain. Yuck...
It appears that the strike against Chrysler is over. Details are pending, but at least I'll be back at work tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
The UAW has notified Chrysler that unless a new contract is agreed upon by 11:00 AM Wednesday, it will call a general strike and its members will walk off their jobs. This means that I could end up on a picket line Thursday morning (yes, my steward has already given me my assignment). I'm not thrilled about this one bit - I would much rather be working than have an unpaid vacation.
The main sticking points that have been reported include health care costs for both active workers and retirees & job security. Excerpts from msnbc.msn.com:
Chrysler's needs are different from GM's requirements, analysts said, so a deal requires cost cuts in different places.
"We think that they may be holding out for something more than GM got," said Aaron Bragman, an industry analyst for the consulting firm Global Insight.
Among the differences this time, analysts say, are health care givebacks granted to GM and Ford Motor Co. in 2005 that Chrysler didn't get, worth approximately $340 million a year.
Several analysts also said the company and union likely are apart on setting up a Chrysler-funded union-run trust that would take on the company's roughly $18 billion in retiree health care costs. Unlike GM, Chrysler also may be against giving specific job security promises by guaranteeing new cars and trucks will be built at U.S. factories, and it wants to hire out parts transportation rather than pay full UAW wages for it, the analysts said.
Cerberus, a private equity firm, probably doesn't want to put too much cash into the trust fund because it wants to turn Chrysler around and sell it, Bragman said. "They don't necessarily want to contribute a large amount of money to a long-term solution when Cerberus is more than likely a short-term owner."
Job security could be a tough issue because Chrysler and its new owner, Cerberus Capital Management LP, would be reluctant to commit to huge investments when the company is looking at potentially cutting some (vehicle) models, said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.
As a bargaining chip, Chrysler could back off from new factory investments that it has announced and make them contingent on a new agreement, Cole said.
A short strike might not hurt Chrysler much. Five U.S. plants were scheduled to be shut down during the next two weeks due to lower market demand for their products. The shutdowns were expected to last one or two weeks.
A short-term strike of up to three weeks would have little effect on the company, which has sufficient inventory to continue selling most of its vehicles, said Jesse Toprak, chief economist for the auto research site Edmunds.com.
"They might actually even benefit from it," Toprak said.
There probably are several readers of this blog who are thinking that Union workers are overpaid, spoiled, & otherwise lazy, and probably deserve an unpaid "time-out." Considering that the media jumps all over stories of Union worker malfeasance and misdeeds, it is easy to understand that sentiment. But lets think about a couple of items for a couple of minutes.
Think of the last time you have read or seen reports of executive "golden parachutes" for managers and CEOs that drove a company on the verge of or into bankruptcy, but still get paid multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses? How about obscene salaries of company executives running companies that complain about sub-standard profits for the quarter, and the need to cut costs (usually labor)? I guarantee you hear more about those than the average Union worker screwing up.
How about the way Walmart treats its workers? I saw a program on one of the pay cable channels that showed Walmart encouraging it's workers to apply for state Medicaid programs for their healthcare. And Walmart would not have any of its hourly employees work over 32 hours a week, otherwise they could be classified as full time workers and be eligible for full-time benefit packages.
Perhaps the way I look at a Union is simplified: To negotiate on the behalf of employees fair wages and benefits, and to prevent abuses of those same employees by the company employing them. The Union is not to run the company.
I think that I can speak (or write) for the majority of Union workers is that we want a fair wage for the work that we perform. You, the reader, probably think that you are being underpaid in your current job, and could always use a little more.
But I can also understand the resentment of the Union protecting the goof-offs, thieves, and idiots that bring the reputation of the rest of the hard-working Union Membership down. I have a couple of these people in my Unit that I wouldn't trust to shine my shoes, but in many ways, it is Management's fault for a) hiring them in the first place, and b) not taking disciplinary action to either train and/or fire them. I also blame the Union for allowing such actions to occur. Personally, I would like to see the Union adopt a Guild mentality - if a person doesn't stay productive and qualified for the job, then that person should be demoted or let go, i.e., they must earn that position. If the Unions are to remain relevant in today's business economy, they will need to adapt to the needs of that economy.
A comment about the timing of this potential strike: The timing for a strike couldn't be worse. Those workers who have been laid off due to plant shutdowns to reduce inventory are still being paid up to 95% of their normal wages by Chrysler. A strike would mean that they would not get that pay, but would receive strike pay (which is significantly less). A strike would actually save Chrysler money since Chrysler would not have to pay those wages, and would hurt the UAW workers. I think our Union Leadership screwed up big time on this issue. Chrysler has a financial incentive, although small, in allowing a strike to proceed.
I can see a strike being called Wednesday, possibly lasting around a week or less. I hope that it doesn't come to that, but we'll see what happens.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
...that the public dislikes politicians, especially those in Congress?
Here's the best recent example of this:
I'm traveling this week, and the car I have has satelite radio. All the talk shows have segments highlighting the Senate Majority Leader's letter to Clear Channel Radio flaming Rush Limbaugh's use of the words "phony soldier." It doesn't matter that Rush's use is in reference to a debunked video of a person misrepresenting his service (he flunked out of basic training and didn't serve in Iraq as he claimed), it's still good for a Senate sponsored spanking.
What is so infuriating about this is that the politicians (mostly Democratic) are accusing Limbaugh of being less than Patriotic, and not supporting the troops. Excuse me?!?!? Exactly what have these various Democratic politicians been doing but calling the troops far worse names than what Limbaugh has falsely been accused of? Just look at Jack Murtha's comments for starters, and you get the idea.
While Rush can get on your nerves with some of his shameless self-promotion and ego boosts, he does bring out many points that would otherwise escape the media's attention. And this brings the ire of the Liberal politicos in this attempt to smear him and otherwise discredit his show and others like his.
Here's the point: The hypocrisy that the Liberal politicians have demonstrated is absolutely disgusting. It is no wonder that the approval rates for Congress are the lowest that have been in years, lower than the President.
Personally, I would vote each and every one of them out and start with a clean slate, and that includes a clean slate of all the Presidential candidates too. We need people, not politicians, running this country. People with common sense(!), integrity, and a selflessness that is not evident in today's government. People who are driven by a sense of public service, not power. I'm tired of the career politicians taking our tax dollars and lining their pockets or the pockets of their cronies with it. It is time to get the money and power out of politics and put the service back in. But then, I can be an idealistic you-know-what at times...
Yeah, I know, when pigs fly under their own power...
Monday, October 01, 2007
...always get me down. Considering what the Michigan legislature did Sunday night, rain on Monday is so appropriate...
Excerpts from msnbc.msn.com:
The Legislature agreed to raise Michigan's income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent and expand the 6 percent sales tax to some services. (Governor) Granholm signed both measures. Structural changes to state government — including the management of teacher and other public employee benefits — also are part of the package.
Raising the state's income tax to 4.35 percent will raise an additional $765 million for the state. The income tax bill is written so the rate will gradually drop back to 3.9 percent between 2011 and 2015.
Extending the sales tax to some services starting Dec. 1 will bring in an estimated $614 million for the 10 months remaining in the fiscal year at that point, or about $750 million annually,
The tax increases should erase most of a projected $1.75 billion deficit in Michigan's next budget. The final budget for the new fiscal year will include $440 million in spending cuts, including no inflationary funding increase for public universities and community colleges, Granholm said.
There are a number of problems that I see with this action by the Michigan government. First and foremost, the state is in a depression/recession. The unemployment rate is more than 7%, and this hike does nothing to attract businesses and people to the state. Instead, it encourages people and businesses to leave the state. Reduce the tax base, reduce the income to the state, and then what? Raise taxes again? Smooth move, morons...
The next problem is that the Legislature has been working on this new budget for over 7 months, and this is the best they could do? Why weren't cost cutting measures implemented from the last budget re-write? If the common person is expected to tighten their belt and not spend as much if they don't have the money, why can't the government? Although, to be somewhat fair, there is supposed to be large cuts in government spending, but we will see if that will be the case.
Last is the statement that "The income tax bill is written so the rate will gradually drop back to 3.9 percent between 2011 and 2015." Right...how often are taxes reduced? And by that time, most of the bozos that voted in the increase will be gone, and the tax hike would be permanent because of the same fiscal irresponsibility.
In many respects, we do not hold our politicians (government) accountable for the expenditures that they make. Indeed, how many studies and reports on waste, mismanagement, and sheer stupidity are published, but how many are actually implemented? Not many, I would presume. If they were, government (both Federal and State) would not find themselves running on deficits.
Yep, time to get rid of the Redundancy Department of Redundancy...
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Yesterday morning, 73,000 UAW GM employees walked off their jobs to put pressure on the company to resolve issues concerning job security, wages, layoffs, and how much production goes overseas. Of particular interest is the initial funding of the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA), which is the trust fund for retiree health care to be administered by the Union.
In today's economy and job market, I can totally understand the concern over job security by the Union membership. Layoffs and the closing of plants are life-changing events that some people cannot recover from. And wages are always a contentious issue - there is a standard of living that many workers have gotten used to, and a reduction in those levels in an age of uncertainty is unsettling at best.
From an earlier post:
The whole idea behind a Union is to first and foremost protect the worker from abuses from the company they work for. Fair wages and other benefits are also part of the contracts as well as a certain amount of job security if the company runs into problems. A Union is not about telling a company how to run its business!! If anything, the contract that the Union and company signs is to protect the worker from mistakes the company’s management may make, which should help the company plan better.
Where the Union has been stung before is two-fold: The company asks for concessions due to the company losing money for the year, and closing the plants due to non-profitability. The company then turns around and gives executives multi-million dollar bonuses. The lack of credibility on the company’s part is obvious.
This now puts pressure on GM’s negotiators to come up with a workable solution that satisfies the Unions but still provides a profitable scenario for the company. Not an easy task, especially with the volatility of the automotive sector with changing consumer tastes and foreign automakers increasing their market share while Detroit struggles.
Part of the solution (from the automaker’s viewpoint) is VEBA. Excerpts from Newsweek on msnbc.com include:
The costs of providing health-care insurance have risen 78 percent this decade, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Hewitt Associates. And that has caused many companies to drop coverage for retirees while others feverishly cut benefits. Last year three quarters of big American companies increased premiums for retirees under 65, and 58 percent raised rates on Medicare-eligible pensioners, according to the study.
Nowhere is the pain more acute than in Detroit, where General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are confronting a lifetime retiree medical tab of $100 billion. Providing medical insurance for 540,344 retirees and 180,681 workers adds about $1,500 to the cost of every car Detroit builds—which goes a long way toward explaining why America's automakers lost a combined $15 billion last year. So the car companies are taking a cue from Goodyear, negotiating with the United Auto Workers to rid themselves of their retiree medical obligations by setting up a union-controlled trust known as a voluntary employees' beneficiary association, or VEBA. (Among the benefits to employees: if an employer goes bankrupt, the retirees' medical plan is protected from hungry creditors.)
In contract talks that have stretched well beyond a Sept. 14 deadline, GM and the UAW are haggling over how to create such a trust. The companies want to kick in about $70 billion to fund the trust, analysts say. That would wipe retiree health-care expenses off their books, which would immediately improve their credit ratings, cut costs and free up cash for other uses.
The union, however, wants more money in the fund—closer to the companies' entire $100 billion obligation. The UAW may have good reason for wanting more. A retiree health-care fund set up by Caterpillar in 1998 went broke in 2004 when it couldn't keep up with runaway medical bills.
It is this last paragraph that concerns me. Medical costs continue to escalate, possibly more than what the fund is able to keep up with. If the fund gets into trouble and needs an influx of cash, where is that going to come from? And the costs for administering the fund will also need to come from somewhere, and that is also a drain on the fund.
Is VEBA really a long-term solution for health care? From the standpoint of GM, it is. Consider this statement:
GM wants the trust, called a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, or VEBA, so it can move much of its $51 billion in unfunded retiree health care liabilities off the books, potentially raising the stock price and credit ratings. It's all part of the company's quest to cut or eliminate about a $25-per-hour labor cost disparity with its Japanese competitors.
Yes, I have concerns about a Union-managed retirement health-care fund. A statement from the same article by a Union retiree:
…says unions have no business taking on the risk of doling out medical benefits to retirees.
While the auto companies need to be profitable to stay in business, it cannot do so without the Union’s cooperation. And the Union membership cannot live without the auto companies staying in business. A catch-22 if there ever was one. The problem is for the company and Union to come to an agreement that benefits both for the long-term, not a quick-fix, greed-ridden short-sighted agreement. And what that will be remains to be seen, not in the short-term, but with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight.