Vieira Balks on Union Role in Auto Crisis

     Amidst all the media finger-pointing over the American automaker crisis, the union representing car builders has by and large received a free pass. The trend continued Dec. 8 when NBC “Today” co-host Meredith Vieira interviewed United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger.

     Vieira gave Gettelfinger a platform to support a taxpayer-funded bailout of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors (GM). She pressed Gettelfinger on concessions the unions would make to bring production costs down, but failed to educate viewers about the union’s role in creating financial problems for the manufacturers.

     “Let's talk about concessions for a minute, because the UAW has made quite a few concessions, but more will be expected of you,” Vieira said. “Are you willing to say today that your workers would accept a pay cut, if it preserved jobs?

      Gettelfinger said the union had made prior concessions in negotiations in 2005 and 2007, and  that  others involved in car production would have to agree to concessions before the UAW accepted more.

     “We’re 10 percent of the total labor cost of an automobile,” he said. “All the stakeholders have to get into a room together, and then we can finalize some kind of an agreement.”

     When Vieira again asked if the UAW would agree to pay cuts to help the companies save money – and jobs – Gettelfinger accused her of scapegoating American workers, and said domestic manufacturers are at a disadvantage compared to foreign makers.

     “But Meredith, we cannot allow the workers in this country to be the scapegoat for this type of a problem,” he said. “Yes, we will go back to the bargaining table. We took that action last week. We made it clear. But I cannot say to you exactly what it is we will do today, but we are prepared to go back to the bargaining table, yes, ma'am.”

     American companies certainly are at a disadvantage compared to foreign manufacturers, but that’s in large part thanks to complex union contracts the require companies to pay workers well over market value for labor, and add additional high costs for health care and unemployment benefits.

     But Vieira didn’t mention it. Most broadcast journalists don’t. A Business & Media Institute study of coverage between Nov. 1 and Nov. 18 found only four of 31 stories (13 percent) about the proposed bailout mentioned unions as a contributing factor.

     Despite pressing Gettelfinger on future concessions, Vieira allowed him to defend a bailout with no rebuttal from opponents.

     Gettelfinger predicted a “monumental impact on our economy as a whole” if the bailout didn’t pass. When Vieira mentioned criticism of the plan, Gettelfinger blamed foreign countries and the U.S. economy for domestic companies’ woes.

     “This is a worldwide problem, Meredith,” he said. “All we have to do is look at other countries around the world, the value that they place on their industry and the consideration that they're giving them. And then, in addition to that, couple it with everything that's happened in our economy, from the subprime housing to the collapse on Wall Street, and then the tight money market. And then you see the vehicle sales have fallen.”

     Gettelfinger refused to criticize car company executives for mismanagement, instead again blaming foreign manufacturers and free trade for Chrysler’s, Ford’s and GM’s problems.

     “Well, let me suggest this -- we have the most open market in the world. We just – this administration just negotiated an agreement last year with Korea. Korea ships in 669,000 automobiles into our country. Every manufacturer in this country alike, domestic and foreign, ship back less than 6,500. So, we've got that to deal with. We have other countries that have health care that's provided to them. There, we just have so many things that are against us, that are stacked against us,” he said.