Union fights move by auto giants to slash jobs

Earlier this year General Motors and Chrysler took billions in federal loan guarantees in exchange for a promise to keep workers employed here in America.

That was then.

Now, the Teamsters say, the two auto giants are moving to slash thousands of union jobs held by the people who transport new vehicles by truck from the plants to the dealerships.

In a telephone press conference this week Fred Zuckerman, director of the union’s Auto Transport Division, charged that the two car companies are reducing their costs by outsourcing the carhauling to non-union private operators who are often unqualified for the job. So far 400 of the union haulers have been fired and the union says as many as 9,000 could end up losing their jobs.

Determined to fight back, the Teamsters have brought the issue into the halls of Congress with a report entitled “Damaged When Delivered.” The report documents the poor condition in which some of the new vehicles are being delivered to dealerships by the non-union haulers.

Two members of the House, Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., have taken up the union’s cause. A spokesperson for Clay said, however, that there is nothing that can be done on a legislative level.

“All you can do is bring this deal to the attention of the Obama administration and the Treasury Department,” Clay said at the press conference. The Treasury Department administers the loans to GM and Chrysler, now called Fiat-Chrysler. “We’ll let them know we’re shining a light on this,” Clay added. “It is outrageous that after taking billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers, GM and Fiat-Chrysler would try to destroy good-paying American jobs that offer a living wage with decent benefits.”

The Teamsters are making a major issue of how the companies are risking expensive investments by putting the jobs in the hands of non-union outfits that pay little attention to training and safety.

They noted at the press conference that with a typical car costing more than $20,000 and with a car carrier costing as much as $250,000 there is too high a level of risk involved with placing the valuable cargo in the hands of untrained individuals.

Bud Palmer, a carhaul driver from Jessup, Md., said that one of the non-union contractors in his state was using straps rather than chains to secure cars on rigs.

“I’ve talked to drivers who had heavy-duty pick-up trucks held on the carhaulers by two straps, not by four chains,” Palmer said. “I was trained for a month in how to properly secure a vehicle on the big car carriers. At Chrysler they’re training these guys for a week and sending them out on the road. Palmer said that to try to keep his job he accepted a 12 percent pay cut but that after taking the pay cut he was fired anyway.

Consumer auto safety activist Rosemary Shahan told reporters at the press conference that much of the damage occurring to the cars being transported this way is “hidden damage,” especially to the undercarriages. She said that the companies have already refused to honor repair warranties after consumer complaints about damages resulting from the cutbacks.

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