There are a lot of people complaining about the supposed differences between the hourly pay of union auto workers with the Detroit 3 and the non-union auto workers at Japanese car factories in the South. It's tough to get an apples-to-apples comparison due to differences in pensions and such. And in any case the hourly labor content of a Detroit 3 car is wildly distorted by the silliness of ridiculous "jobs bank" costs… where idled workers are basically paid to stay home and watch Oprah.
I'm not a big fan of unions, but at the same time I believe that unions generally arise as a result of poor management. The problem is that it's difficult to go back even if and when management improves. And with the undemocratic absurdity of "card check" legislation eliminating the secret ballot, that is bound to get worse. The big impact of unions is not pay, it's work rules. Rules that favor seniority over real experience and knowledge, and rules that often overwhelm common sense. These nonsensical rules are what kill productivity and create inefficiency, making the Detroit 3 uncompetitive. Implementing real lean manufacturing in an environment with strict and narrow functional boundaries is basically a non-starter.
Lori Roman over at Regular Folks used to supervise a bunch of UAW workers and tells some great stories of the nonsense of work rules. But she doesn't just pound on the UAW… she also takes management to task for their lack of backbone to stand up to idiocy when it happens.
I've worked in both Teamsters and IEW factories so her accounts don't surprise me, but perhaps they still should. A couple samples:
One afternoon I was helping oversee the plant while upper management was off site. The workers brought an RV into the loading yard with a female “entertainer” who danced for them and then “entertained” them in the RV. With no other management around, I went to Labor Relations for assistance. As a twenty five year old woman, I was not about to try to break up a crowd of fifty rowdy men. The Labor Relations Rep pulled out the work rules and asked me which of the rules the men were breaking. I read through the rules and none applied directly of course. Who wrote work rules to cover prostitutes at lunch? The only “legal” cause I had was an unauthorized vehicle and person and that blame did not fall on the union workers who were being “entertained” but on the security guards at the gate. Not one person suffered any consequence.
And we want more of that via Card Check? Do they deserve a bailout? And can they really reform those practices in three months?