Pavlov would give them all a treat

If there’s ever a perfect example of human behavior matching Pavlov’s dog, simply mention the word “union” in a room full of conservatives.  I have laughed all evening at comments on different web outlets on the story about Volkswagen entertaining the idea of adopting the German policy of having a work council operating in its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant.  As it currently stands, the U.S. plant is the only one of VW’s plants that do not have a works council operating, and that’s because of the way U.S. labor law is written.

From Reuters on September 3rd:

Union officials in Germany who wished to remain anonymous said on Tuesday that the 2,500 Volkswagen workers at the Chattanooga plant may be briefed as soon as this week on efforts to bring the matter to a vote and on the UAW’s willingness to back that vote.

At VW plants, workers are represented by so-called works councils, which include laborers as well as executives who cooperate to determine issues ranging from company strategy to job conditions. They do not negotiate wages or benefits.

“If Bob King can get his foot in the door at Chattanooga, even if it’s just a works council, it’s pretty significant,” said a former auto executive at a foreign automaker with U.S. plants, who wished to remain anonymous.

If you don’t know the difference between a works council and a union, there is one huge glaring difference that I have yet to see a single commenter online acknowledge.  A union, depending on the situation and industry, negotiates everything to include wages, benefits, workplace conditions, and so on.  In Germany, a works council does not negotiate wages or benefits.  For a primer on Germany’s works councils, follow this link here for detailed information.  For the link challenged, here are a few bullet points outlined on that site.

First and main commission of the works council is advancing and securing employment of the employees. Connected tasks and rights are covering:

  • Design of workplace environment and working processes
  • Personnel matters as cancellation, hiring, restructuring and transfers
  • Economical matters as e.g. making a social programme
  • Controlling the compliance with law, regulations, collective agreements, company agreements, accient[sic] prevention, environment protection etc.
  • Support and advancement of senior employees, disabled employees and foreign employees
  • Equal treatment of men and women
  • Codetermination on issues that are not regulated by law or collective agreements. Examples are regulations on working hours, remuneration, vacation, introducing surveillance devices for controlling the employees, suggestion scheme

Needless to say, the conservatives in government positions in Chattanooga city government and Tennessee state government have already voiced their displeasure in knee jerk reaction if for no other reason than the UAW is involved in this.  However, if you look at the work culture of Germany when compared to the U.S., you begin to see a bit deeper as to why some people here don’t like the idea.

German company leaders actually get along with their workers and treat them with respect.  Instead of treating them as nothing more than a number on the P&L sheet, the management teams in German companies actually try to forge a positive work environment while including workers in on the decisions being made.  Workers in Germany actually have representation on boards, unlike in the U.S. where everything is all about the shareholder.

In the U.S., workers are supposed to be grateful just for having a job, regardless to how little they make or how little input they have in their working conditions.  Here, we’re not supposed to speak up on anything and simply thank our corporate overlords for trickling on us.  If we’re supposed to be able to take care of our families by working, then we should get two jobs if one doesn’t pay you enough to take care of your family.  Who cares if you’re never home to raise your children?

Given recent news in different industries, I won’t be even remotely surprised if our economy hasn’t gone the way of the dodo bird by the year 2025.  We used to be the world’s manufacturers and supplied everything to almost everyone.  Now, we’re basically service workers being led by gambling money changers who don’t care about anything outside of their pockets and/or wallets.  That’s what we get for allowing ourselves to be taken over by the MBA mindset, profits over everything else.

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2 thoughts on “Pavlov would give them all a treat

  1. Interesting piece you wrote here. As the son of a retired Ford Motor Co employee/UAW member (still pays his dues after 60 plus years), I’ve been fascinated by arguments about the pros/cons of auto industry labor relations over the years and often how little they have to do with reality.

    Remember a couple or so years back when the story ran about the average auto worker making $70 an hour? That was total creative accounting. Back in Daddy’s day, the figure that was floated was $40 an hour, when he in fact made about 25-30% of that. I’ve had people swear to me that I was wrong about that but I saw his check stubs, they didn’t.

    Another big thing you often hear is about the high cost of retiree health care affecting the company. At one time there might have been some truth in that but first of all, their retire health benefits (which were promised to be lifetime) have been cut every year and on the second front, Ford Motor Company turned all that over to the UAW, a few years back. So now, it’s the UAW paying for and administering the health benefits, not the company. (Few in the public know that).

    It’s just always amazed me how many misrepresentations appear in the press, when I’ve had an inside seat, for my entire life, as to how things actually are.

    And one last point, and this is something hardly anyone knows, U.S. and Japanese auto workers salaries have been virtually the same for quite a few years. German auto workers are the highest paid auto workers in the world. Could it be their system is worth looking at?

    And I worked in the auto dealership side of things for years, so I’ve seen that other than style points, most everybody’s product is about the same, if you compare apples to apples (like priced vehicles). So the old argument that one country makes better cars than another, is really just a matter of opinion and taste. You can probably guess what I drive, always have drove and always will drive. Loyalty should be a two way street though, and it often isn’t.

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    • I remember hearing about your dad’s story. I’d take your word on the paycheck over anybody else seven days of the week. I see the same thing whenever federal workers are discussed, and I always get a good laugh from reading on all the misinformation that’s bandied about as though it’s concrete fact.

      I didn’t know about the UAW handling health benefits now, but that does sound par for the course. Even though I’m not that old, I can remember when companies actually took care of their workers. Nowadays, a worker is nothing but an amount on their balance books that has to be continuously minimized at all costs.

      I also didn’t realize that German autoworkers were the highest paid in the world. That said, I do know that German companies, their unions, and the government all worked together to ensure they didn’t have massive layoffs like companies here did. I think that’s one of the reasons they weathered the recession and recovered much faster than we did. When people have money, they become consumers. Consumers, and not investors, are the primary driver of a consumption based economy.

      I think I would pass out if I saw you driving anything other than what you do. My grandfather, who helped raise me, always drove Ford trucks and Chevy cars. Everything in my driveway now has a bowtie or Chevrolet written on it somewhere. I see no need to drive anything different, regardless to whatever the rhetoric states nowadays.

      As for loyalty, that ship sailed with “The Love Boat” a long time ago. In today’s society, loyalty is a liability.

      Like

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