Thursday, April 30, 2009

Officially official: Chrysler bankrupt

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Quite the week for tumultuous news. First a bug from a pig on a Mexican beach causes worldwide panic, then an American automaker declares bankruptcy while another, once deemed to big to fail, teeters on the brink.

We live in exciting times, eh?

What I find fascinating about the throes of the domestic auto industry is the fundamental shift in accountability that will result. It's fair to argue that at least some of the woes that currently afflict the formerly-Big 3 took root in generations of less-than-stellar labor relations. Leaders of the unionized workforce managed to carve out quite the power niche for themselves as they virtually guaranteed well-paying jobs for workers who, in any other economy, would most likely have been sweeping floors at the local pizza joint.

Unfortunately for the automakers, their adversarial relationships with their unionized employees prevented them from responding in anything remotely approaching an agile manner to fast-changing market conditions. Byzantine union rules that prevented certain classes of workers from doing anything not directly tied to their mandated position - sorry, sir, I'm qualified to install door handles on the Cutlass SE, not the LX - hampered their ability to change with the times.

Lest you think I'm myopic, there's plenty of blame to go around, Leadership certainly must shoulder much of the blame for becoming so unable to see which way the world was going, it didn't help that their hands were tied by workers more interested in their own self-interest and not the company's or, heavens, the customers.

So as taxpayers on both sides of the borders pump countless billions of dollars into these former leviathans of industry, they have every right to expect that the organizational structures, processes, attitudes and relationships that resulted in today's monumental botch job will be tossed out the window and replaced with something reminiscent of an actual business plan, where various stakeholders - leaders, workers, supply chain members, customers - partner up to create a market that can create value and sustain itself.

Damn, I sound so idealistic. Still, I'm encouraged by the fact that the United Auto Workers will own a decent-sized chunk of the Chrysler that emerges from bankruptcy. Maybe once the unionistas are on the other side of the business coin, they'll appreciate something beyond the culture of entitlement that has guided them for so long.

If we're lucky, the same kind of sea change will flow into GM, Ford and whoever else is left standing when this storm is done blowing itself out.

Your turn: Thoughts?

6 comments:

Breeze said...

Carmi...it has been so unbalanced. I'm all about fairness for the employee but it has gone far beyond/the unions have done a grave injustice to the worker in the name of fairness. How fair is it to lame the company that pays the bills and thus costing the worker in the long run.

I hope a lesson has been learned. I fear it hasn't.

Breeze

Moogie said...

One of the things that my grandmother used to always say was that Unions were a good thing when they started out...but then they took it too far. She stopped her education when she finished the 8th grade in order to work and help the family out. That was a norm back then.

I work for a defense contractor who has their share of Union employees. They are so mired down with "job descriptions" and such that they are unable to see "out of the box" if you will. If they are laid off, there won't be much they can put on their resume...other than those job duties they were allowed to perform.

Of course, without a doubt, another problem is the seniority issue. In stead of allowing management to keep the best of their workers, they are forced to comply with the "those who have the most seniority" rule. As you can well imagine, that is not always a good thing.

To top that off, it is next to impossible to fire someone unless there is some type of huge catastrophe or major dereliction of duty in which safety, violation of procedures (etc) is an issue.

On that note, I just bought a Nitro, and even though my car's warranty is guaranteed, I am not getting that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Moogie said...

Sorry, I kind of wavered off the topic a bit. I do agree with Breeze though. I also am afraid it's going to take a long time before things change.

Mojo said...

Having worked (briefly) in a union shop I saw up close and personal how restrictive it could be. That part didn't affect me directly so much -- I wasn't there long enough to join and they paid everybody the same scale union or not. But the seniority rules certainly did. So did the overtime rules. Because union or not, overtime was rationed and if you bid for it and there was another, more senior employee also bidding you were outta luck. Didn't matter who was better suited to the task, didn't matter who would be cheaper to pay the OT to. Only mattered who'd been breathing the air in the place longer.

The hell of it is that it's generally not the worker him/herself that causes the problem. Most of them are perfectly willing to go the extra mile -- or a few feet anyway. But most often even though they would if they could, they can't because it's against the rules.

In the beginning unions were a good thing. They kept the corporate giants from crushing the working class stiff and forced them to create something like a safe work environment. They looked out for the little guy.

But it wasn't very long before they took on an Orwellian mantle a la Animal Farm. You know at the end when it was no longer possible to tell the difference between the pigs and the farmers? At some point the unions became less about the workers and more about the union bosses. And pretty soon the workers were simply a means to an end.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss as the song goes.

Which is just too slick a segue into my second TP offering this week to pass up.

Thematic Photographic 47: Music v.2.0

Tyler said...

Hi carmi, netchick sent me!

David said...

my two cents:
Ford survives
and GM ( with the stupid Hummer) goes down, for the count.
Commercial paper due in the next 4 months is some HUGE number and a lot of it will not qualify for refinancing, buckle up, folks, the bad times are just around the corner.