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Commentary: Shame of the UAW

As you probably know, a Titanic battle has been going on for years now over whether to build a new bridge over the Detroit River.

On one side is Governor Rick Snyder, the government of Canada, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, and the chambers of commerce. On the other side, Matty Moroun’s family, the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, who right now have a monopoly on moving billions in heavy automotive components from Detroit to Ontario.

The Moroun family, that is, together with those who support their position because of their money.

This summer, Canada and the governor announced plans to build a new bridge downriver, the New International Trade Crossing.

The project would create 10 thousand new jobs, some permanent; some lasting a few years. Many of these would be good-paying union jobs in constriction and associated fields.

To try to stop any new bridge, Moroun paid millions to solicit signatures and put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot next month aimed at blocking any new crossing.

Moroun is being supported in this by Grover Norquist, the nation’s biggest anti-tax activist and a sworn enemy of unions and collective bargaining. So it came as a shock late last week when rumors seeped out that the United Auto Workers union might make a deal with Moroun to support his anti-bridge amendment.

According to the rumors, the union would oppose Proposal 6, and in return, the bridge owner would make vast sums available to the union to support their campaign for the amendment they most care about: Proposal 2, which would protect collective bargaining.

When the union didn’t immediately deny these rumors, allies like Canadian Auto Workers Union President Ken Lewenza expressed disbelief and potential outrage. He told UAW President Bob King, that his union was behind the new bridge, and always would be, no matter what.

Finally, two days ago, King broke his silence and said that the UAW wasn’t going to make a deal with Moroun. But he didn‘t deny that his union had been playing footsie with the Ambassador Bridge owner. In fact, all he really said is that Moroun failed to put any money into the union’s battle.

Many union supporters professed relief to learn there was no deal with Moroun. But I think the mere fact that one was considered is an appalling disgrace. So is the union’s decision to stay neutral on the Moroun amendment. Think about it. The UAW is failing to oppose an amendment which, if passed, may prevent thousands of largely union jobs.

Part of the problem seems to be the union’s anger at Governor Snyder’s willingness to go along with some anti-union laws passed by the legislature. They especially resented his signing a law preventing teachers from having union dues deducted from their paychecks. Well, yes, that was petty.

But this governor, unlike his Republican counterparts in neighboring states, opposes right-to-work legislation. And for the UAW to fail to oppose Moroun strikes me as a betrayal of the spirit in which this union was founded. Bob King has two years left as UAW president, and has said he wants to leave a lasting legacy. My guess is that this is not what the people who elected him had in mind. 

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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