Networks Downplay Union Factor in Auto Manufacturing

     Is unionized labor a sacred cow for the media?


     Both “NBC Nightly News” and “CBS Evening News” ran segments on their Nov. 20 broadcasts about how foreign automakers are faring better than domestic manufacturers. But they downplayed one distinction between the two: foreign auto facilities – domestic and abroad – are mostly not unionized, unlike American companies.


     “The battle for survival in the U.S. auto industry has been gradually moving away from Detroit southward,” Mott said. “Foreign automakers like Hyundai, in Montgomery, Ala., have been building plants in the Southeast for the past 25 years, lured by tax incentives and cheaper, non-union labor. And while they’re feeling the economic pinch, too – Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and BMW all plan layoffs – foreign companies are still expanding. Three new assembly plants in Southern states are under construction.”


     However, the unions – or lack thereof – are a major reason these southern facilities are more successful than their General Motors (NYSE:GM), Ford (NYSE:F) and Chrysler (NYSE:DAI) counterparts in Detroit, as Tim Miller of pointed out in an e-mail to the Business & Media Institute.


     “Much of this turmoil stems from restrictive UAW job rules that prevent GM from having the flexibility to be competitive in the global marketplace, particularly during an economic downturn,” Miller wrote. “One of the most egregious examples is the union job bank, which continues to pay workers whose jobs fell victim to technological progress or plant restructurings even though they aren’t actually working.”


     A similar report on “CBS Evening News” showed how Japanese automakers are weathering the storm. One employee of a Toyota (NYSE:TM) facility in San Antonio likened his job to being Charlie from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and getting the golden ticket – not the sense of entitlement you hear from union proponents.


     “Job security is a Japanese cultural tradition, a belief that workers are so important they are the last to be cut,” CBS correspondent Barry Petersen said. “When Tundra production stopped here for three months, some workers were out the door, all right: a furlough spent doing community service in San Antonio parks at full pay until the assembly line restarted and they went back to their regular jobs.”


     CBS completely neglected addressing the union factor in the push for a bailout. Instead, they commended the foreign automakers for having lower executive compensation.


     “Lower [CEO] salaries mean that for Japanese automakers, it’s not about bailouts but rollouts, like the first Honda Civic at this new plant opened in Indiana this week – and having cash on hand for designing ever more new models despite a bleak outlook from the head of Nissan,” Petersen said.


     A Business & Media Institute analysis of coverage of the proposed federal bailout for U.S. automakers found that more than 70 percent of stories on ABC, CBS and NBC were pro-bailout. Only four of 44 stories mentioned unions as a contributing factor to the problems.