Conservative Politicians Misleadingly Blame Labor Unions For Detroit’s Woes

Congress and the Bush administration are currently considering whether to spend $25 billion to rescue Detroit automakers. The proposal has generally been met with stiff resistance from conservatives, who have increasingly been pinning all the blame for the crisis in Detroit on labor unions:

Sen. Jim DeMint: “Some auto manufacturers are struggling because of a bad business structure with high unionized labor costs and burdensome federal regulations. Taxpayers did not create these problems and they should not be forced to pay for them.”

Sen. Jon Kyl: “For years they’ve been sick. They have a bad business model. They have contracts negotiated with the United Auto Workers that impose huge costs.The average hourly cost per worker in this country is about $28.48. For these auto makers, it’s $73. And for the Japanese auto companies working here in the United States, it’s $48.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “You know, if you pay the auto workers or the benefits and all of those things, are maybe too high. … We have, like, in America, you sell a car, and you have $2,000 of each car just goes to benefits. So I think that there’s a way of reducing all of that, make them more fiscally responsible.”

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Unions do not deserve the blame placed on them by the right wing. In fact, unions have repeatedly made concessions to auto executives over recent years. Contrary to Kyl’s claim, new auto employees earn $25.65 an hour.


Big Three automaker CEOs and executives based their business model on a future of cheap oil, fighting fuel efficiency standards despite warnings against such a strategy. Detroit manufactured, as Tom Friedman pointed out, oversized gas-guzzling SUVs that reduced their competitive edge.

Financial firms AIG, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns did not have unionized workers but still suffered economic collapses. Frozen credit markets and a spiraling recession were major contributors to Detroit’s current state. Today, the Center for American Progress urged Congress “to support legislation to grant a $25 billion bridge loan to the U.S. auto companies to ensure that they avoid bankruptcy” provided the automakers provide health and retirement security and invest in clean technology.