Steve Diamond makes an excellent point in his comment on this post. The UAW isn’t the direct owner of the Chrysler shares (nor will it be of the GM shares). The owner is the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA, which was set up to pay benefits to the retirees. So the retirees are now dependent on the success of Chrysler and its stock. As Diamond points out, the VEBA’s first duty is to retirees, which puts it at odds with the active workers in the UAW. The structure also makes the retirees utterly dependent on the success of a corporation in which the union has no voice in running.
As Sam Gindin, who was for many years the top economist at the Canadian Auto Workers, pointed out to me, the UAW has bet everything on maintaining health care benefits. That bet looks shakier than ever.
A word on the UAW itself: this is not a poor union. As of 2006, it had assets of almost $1.3 billion, and annual receipts of $304 million. (I wish I could provide a link to the UAW’s own financial statements, but if they’re on their website, I can’t find them. I had to go to the anti-union site, UnionFacts.com, to find this basic financial info. And I learned that there that the AFL-CIO had successfully lobbied the Obama administration to loosen financial disclosure requirements for unions.) It could have easily financed serious research into a better strategic direction for the auto industry than the idiot management has been able to—cleaner cars, better modes of work organization. Its PAC spent $13 million on campaign contributions during the 2008 election cycle; it could have spent a few mil of that on campaigning for national health insurance.
But they didn’t. And now they’re pretty well screwed.