Wednesday, October 03, 2007

UAW, GM, and PR

The UAW-GM agreement is interesting and significant for a host of reasons. It's a landmark concession by the union to take responsibility for its own health and retiree benefits program, thus removing a great weight from GM. GM in turn has promised more job security for workers. How either change and promise will be sustainable is yeet to be seen.

But the PR aspects of this interests me as well. It's not just about the public opinion on the matter. I look at the relationship between line and staff, management and worker, in such a dichotomous environment. Such agreements are usually comprimises, where each side gains only by losing. It's virtually impossible in a union environment to gain or even seek win-win solutions.

I know unions are important--Samuel Gompers and labor history and all that. But, as Thomas Friedman eloquently points out, the world is flat. Stomping feet and trying to get what you want isn't really the best posture for either unions or management these days. Radical, wholesale, systemic change is in order if auto companies are to create an environment where the PR mantra of "mutually beneficial relationships" can exist.

Rather than heralding their agreement as a good one because both sides caved and benefitted in terms of contracts and benefits, they should take a square one approach that considers the front line of the battle not union-management, but American-foreign autos. If GM makes better cars, competes on quality vs patriotism, and sells more of them at affordable prices.....well then, the company will prosper, jobs will be saved and created, there will be mutual benefit.

BBut such a "we're in this together" mentality is prevented by the union vs. management culture. I'll be impressed when that changes. It can happen. Davenport University in Grand Rapids dissolved its faculty union a few years ago because they realized it made no sense to pay dues and fight when they were on the same page with administration.

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