Eric Mayne's Blog

Don’t Confuse Union Man With Peking Man

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What is a fair price? It’s a question that has dogged the species since Peking Man crafted the first flint arrowhead.

Back then, negotiations were simple. A buyer fingered the point of the weapon, saw the shavings on the ground and deduced (as much as his sloped forehead would allow) the arrowhead’s value.

Grunt. Grunt. Done deal.

PEKING MAN

Fast-forward to today. Evolution has, thankfully, enhanced our capacity to create.

Accordingly, the products we make not only are more complex in design, they require highly sophisticated processes to deliver.

But these processes are most effective when properly maintained. Enter Union Man.

Determining a fair price for his contributions to the auto industry has become particularly onerous, if only because there are no telltale shavings on dealer lots to remind us that vehicles are crafted and don’t grow on trees.

So it’s not surprising that some (the snobbish, the ignorant, the greedy, etc.) regard Union Man as they would Peking Man.

Hence the contempt leaching from the blogosphere during this year’s bargaining round between Detroit auto makers and the UAW.

The criticisms cut with the precision of a stone axe. UAW members are “thugs” and “morons.”

The underlying message: Why not put the screws to the Neanderthals who simply turn the screws?

But it doesn’t take an archaeologist to dig up examples of initiative and innovation demonstrated daily by UAW members.

At GM’s plant in Delta Township, MI, home to the highly acclaimed Buick Enclave cross/utility vehicle and its platform-mates, the hot-selling Chevy Traverse and GMC Acadia, members of UAW Local 602 helped redesign a turntable to enable easier – and safer – battery installation. Additional payoff comes from improved product quality and reduced assembly costs.

At GM’s van plant in Wentzville, MO, vigilant UAW members affected so many timely repairs and upgrades, they saved the site more than $1.5 million in operating costs last year.

Ford also has credited the contributions of UAW members for the smooth introduction of the current-generation Taurus at its Chicago assembly plant. And Chrysler has lauded unionized hourly workers for developing processes to ensure the smooth launch of its new and critically important Pentastar V-6 engine.

UAW President Bob King is striving to nurture a culture of engagement for his members. Such a culture benefits all – company, consumer and community.

But benefits also come at a price. Even Peking Man knew that.

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