Thursday, July 5

So it begins...

I have been trying all day to figure out how to appropriately open CE's doors - what first post would really capture the purpose and importance of what we're trying to do here, and I had come up with zero. Then the Chicago Tribune did all my work for me.

Right on the front page of the Business section was this article. It details how the Senate's energy bill (requiring all vehicles to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020) may be the final straw for a few key truck- and suv-manufacturing plants. According to the article, the current law has different requirements for cars than for trucks and suv's.

The thing that struck me was that the UAW is supporting an alternative measure in the House that would raise the corporate average fuel-economy rating to 32-35 mpg by 2022. A little better, right? Wrong, say the workers at the plants that might close. They produce a product that currently gets 16 mpg. So even the plan their union supports wouldn't keep them in their jobs.

The article outlines some workers and former workers - all of whom are supplementing their income. One guy installs solar panels, but says business is "kind of slow". A retired employee is working at a food processing plant, where he makes $15/hour. "A far cry from the $27 that GM paid."

With negotiations between the UAW and the Big 3 looming, does anyone think the issue of fuel economy will even have a minute's worth of debate? Probably not. Plant closures are nothing new these days, and there are a lot of other issues that will take precedent at that table (retiree benefits, anyone?). So, what about this article makes it opener-worthy? Well, nothing - on it's own.

It's just that, for some reason, the Trib posts its almanac and obituaries in the inside pages of the Business section. So, right across the page, as I'm finishing the UAW article, tucked away on page 3, in tiny font, is the following:

ALMANAC, published July 5, 2007...
In 1935 President Franklin Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act, which authorized labor to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining.
Hmm. It has been a long 72 years since the NLRA came into being. Now, the unions are finding themselves conceding hard-won benefits to their employers just to keep the businesses - and in the case of the UAW, the whole industry - afloat. It seems every modern movement, from globalization to universal healthcare to, apparently, environmentalism is affecting the Union's (capital U) chance for survival as an effective way to do business. The future of the labor movement is unstable, and creative solutions are few and far between.

Is the movement in flux? Or is this the end of an experiment that began with that Almanac entry? Our best attempt at finding answers starts here, in the comments. See you there.

Chicago Tribune: M.P.G. bill could cost UAW jobs
Almanac - July 5, 2007