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Labor Voices: UAW works with employers for union members

In business and industry we usually view the culture as dog eat dog. This is a traditional role between labor and employers.

But it is not the whole story. In truth, UAW members and employers, beyond the conflict and headlines of members' demands during collective bargaining and in workplace issues like grievances, must still partner to drive this nation’s economic engine. 

Good employers who succeed understand that a happy, productive workforce is essential to corporate success and corporate profits. They understand, as workers do, that the goal is based on the products working men and women build or the services they provide as well as getting a fair share of success.

That is the power of labor-management collective bargaining. It is the power behind a healthy economy, a productive economy and one that fosters healthy workplaces, healthy communities and a strong middle class.

Take for instance, the UAW role in convening with the Detroit Three COVID-19 task force. Faced with a deadly pandemic and no test to determine exposure, nor a vaccine to protect workers and their families, the UAW and the Detroit Three collaborated and shut down factories to save American lives. 

These actions by the task force, and the role the task force played in identifying protocols for returning to work, saved lives and led other industries to adopt these same protocols and policies. 

Rather than an adversarial process in a time of crisis, the employers and union sat down together to focus on very real threats to our families, our communities and our economy, and worked collaboratively to take the most prudent steps forward. That’s how this relationship must work when there is no time for prolonged legal challenges or grievance procedures.

Similarly we see this playing out across the auto industry’s adoption of new electric vehicle products. To be sure, there is an advocacy role playing out over these future jobs being good-paying jobs replacing the jobs of building traditional gas engines. But there is also a role between employers and the UAW to ensure the United States does not fall behind in adopting this new technology.

In each of these cases, employers and the UAW understand that our teams, our talents and our resources can create a work world that promises growth in our economy and a fair share of compensation. 

The UAW has proved since its very beginning that an employer's success opens the door for a UAW member's success at the bargaining table. We’ve worked on a united front in building a strong economy, enhancing job creation and developing better standards of living. This is true whether we are working together on the factory floor, at the bargaining table or competing in this global economy. 

Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, the UAW and Ford Motor Co. partnered to combat the shortage of personal protective equipment and medical supplies across the country. UAW members volunteered to return to work to produce masks, ventilators and other supplies to combat the spread of the virus.

Since then the partnership has provided 120 million masks to first responders, schools, local governments and organizations across the country. In addition, 22.5 million face shields have been produced, 50,000 ventilators, 32,000 respirators and 1.6 million isolation gowns. This equipment continues to protect essential workers and communities across the country. 

And yes, make no mistake, throughout the process of collaboration there is also the union’s aggressive traditional labor role in member disagreements over bargaining and contractual issues. Every day UAW members work to make our employers successful and to share in that success. 

That’s why at the UAW, the solidarity of our voices certainly speaks for our membership, but they also speak up for our economy, our future and our communities.

The goal is to create and share in the prosperity — and that includes carrying a stick for a worker's fair share and a carrot for creating prosperity at the bargaining table.

Ray Curry is president of the UAW.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Teamsters President James Hoffa and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.