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FAIR Responds to Demonization of Autoworkers by ABC

Posted by libhom Saturday, December 06, 2008

In a previous posting, I complained about the anti union and anti worker agenda behind the corporate media's demonization of the auto worker bailout. It looks like I'm not the only one noticing this. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has a recent Action Alert on ABC's role in all of this.

People have a lot of sympathy for the workers in the auto industry, and, understandably, nil sympathy for the CEO. So, ABC decided to attack the auto workers themselves in order to undermine the strongest basis of support for the bailout.

ABC's Overpaid Autoworkers


In an attempt to explain the plight of the Big Three U.S. automobile manufacturers, ABC's World News used a wildly misleading statistic regarding autoworkers' pay.

On the December 3 edition of the ABC newscast, reporter Chris Bury took aim at the supposed inflexibility of the United Auto Workers: "But the union did not offer to give back the big stuff, pay and benefits that remain a fundamental problem. Ford, Chrysler and GM pay union workers more than $73 an hour in wages and benefits. Japanese plants here shell out just over $44. For GM, that translates into $1,500 more per car more than Toyota has to pay."

This factoid, which is a favorite of the industry--and, increasingly, of the media as well (see Media Matters, 11/22/08)--has been exposed as misleading for some time. In the New Republic (11/21/08), Jonathan Cohn called it "wildly misleading," and cited an analyst for the Center for Automotive Research who determined that "average wages for workers at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors were just $28 per hour as of 2007." The much higher figure, according to Cohn, results from a mathematical sleight of hand. "The cost of all employer-provided benefits--namely, health insurance and pensions--and then dividing by the number of workers." In other words, costs related to retired workers, who well outnumber current employees, are used to create an inflated figure that is misleadingly labeled as current labor costs.

Writing in Portfolio (11/18/08), Felix Salmon called it a "ridiculous number," adding: "Now that GM's healthcare obligations are being moved to a UAW-run trust, even that fictitious number is going to fall sharply. But anybody who uses it as a rhetorical device suggesting that U.S. car companies are run inefficiently is being disingenuous." The United Auto Workers also has a page on their website debunking the industry figures (http://www.uaw.org/barg/07fact/fact02.php).

And as the Wall Street Journal reported (11/20/08), "During the past three years, the union agreed to eliminate tens of thousands of production jobs, reduce healthcare coverage for union retirees and slash wages for new hires--moves that essentially level the playing field between the Big Three auto makers and their foreign-owned rivals." The paper went on to explain that these concessions are significant: "Analysts believe the changes will bring the average cost of union labor to less than $50 an hour by 2010 or 2011, in line with Toyota Motor Corp.'s labor costs. The Harbour Report, a closely watched scorecard of auto-plant productivity, earlier this year found that in 2007 the average per-vehicle labor costs for the Big Three in 2007 was no more than $260 above Toyota's"--far from the $1,500 premium ABC claimed GM pays.

ABC did include a quote from UAW president Ron Gettelfinger, saying that he "bristled at blaming auto workers"--but ABC's newscast was as much behind the finger-pointing as the industry is. As economist Dean Baker noted (Beat the Press, 11/18/08), this misinformation has serious consequences: "It certainly can affect public support for a bailout if they are led to believe that autoworkers are paid much more than is actually the case." ABC should correct the record.

Tell ABC that it should correct its December 3 report that inaccurately characterized autoworker salaries.

ABC World News



I encourage you to check out the UAW's page debunking this corporate media bullshit. The page has other information that does a good job of explaining how salaries and benefits work in that industry that are similar to how they work in many other areas of the economy.



  1. Jimmy Says:
  2. They certainly don't want to talk about the wages of foremen, area managers, etc, on the company side who also draw pensions and retain healthcare coverage. Once again, it shows how we need single payer universal healthcare now as we try to compete with other industrialized nations that have it. People, like my folks, labored for 30+ years in union plants and earned every bit of those wages and benefits they have coming to them in retirement.

  3. Lew Scannon Says:
  4. Thanks for this important information. Living in Michigan, we often hear from the right the demonization of the UAW and auto workers, who while making considerably less than middle management and executives, are accused of wanting to be rich. Ironic that people who make $60K a year a rich, while those making three or four times that aren't.

  5. GDAEman Says:
  6. My e-mail has been sent to ABC. Thanks for making it easy for me to let ABC know we're out here keeping an eye on them.

  7. Anonymous Says:
  8. Good to know this is getting more attention. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rachel Maddow bring this up on her MSNBC program last week, basically using a sarcastic tone and saying, "How dare those workers organize! How dare they ask for quality health care and other benefits! If they'd just shut up, the U.S. automakers wouldn't be on the brink of failure!"

  9. libhom Says:
  10. Jimmy: I couldn't agree more and couldn't have said that anywhere near as well.

    Lew: Better watch that logical thinking. Somebody might think you are a liberal or something.

    GDAEman: Thanks for emailing and for emphasizing action on your blog.

    Riverwolf: I love Rachel Maddow. It's not like the workers forced the management to make ugly gas guzzlers. I'm sure the workers would much rather have made higher quality automobiles than junk SUVs.

  11. JayV Says:
  12. Haven't the Detroit auto workers been calling for better, eco-friendly cars and management just ignored their suggestions?



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