To: The United Auto Workers
From: The American Taxpayer
Re: Team Spirit
First, we want to make it clear that we do not consider you overpaid or lazy. Your persistent reliance on that argument reveals that you either do not understand the issues before us, or are trying to divert attention from these issues by making it all about you. Either way, we want to clarify our position by submitting a number of questions and comments for your consideration.
1. It's Not About You; 'It's the Economy, Stupid!'
Millions of us are struggling now. We are underwater on our mortgage payments and we might lose our jobs and health benefits. Sure, we should have planned ahead, but the word "should" is really irrelevant now, isn't it? We are all up against it. Hard decisions need to be made and unpalatable actions need to be taken. There is no "should"; there is only "is."
2. A Deal is a Deal, but Only Between the Parties to that Deal
collectively referred to herein as "your employer(s)" have contractually agreed to pay total labor costs (which include benefits along with wages) of about $73/hour vs. the $44/hour that non-union competitors like
pay, who are we to judge? A deal is a deal, and your contract with your employer is none of our business. We respect your right to make as much money as you possibly can under the concept of "capitalism." If you are not familiar with the term, just Google it -- it's a concept that has served us well for over 200 years.
While the binding contract between you and your employer is none of our business, we think it's important to point something out. The guys who signed the contracts on behalf of your employer are largely inept, incompetent, arrogant and not particularly self-aware. Many epitomize the
. While this is not your fault and is not a reflection on your fine union, neither is it our problem.
Your employer is about to go out of business and will be unable to live up to the deal that was struck with you. Remarkably, you are now asking us to come up with about $15 billion to bail out your employer. We'll probably wind up bailing you out because we know that tens of millions of dollars went into the last election cycle, and favors need to be repaid by our newly elected representatives. We get that. We don't like it, but we get it. But if your employers are requesting a business loan, we have a right (in fact, an obligation) to review the cost of labor in order to determine whether the loan makes good business sense.
To clarify, we have no issue with your compensation; we merely find that your employers' labor costs are sufficiently high as to render them non-competitive, thereby increasing the risk that your employers will be unable to repay us.
In fact, as a brief digression, we remind you that this entire mess was created by improper attention being given to the ability of borrowers to repay their loans. We have no more standing to question your compensation than we have to question the money
pays to Tiger Woods. But you see, Nike is not asking for our help, your employers are. So we've got questions, and we want answers.
3. Your Unacceptable Sense of Entitlement
Let's cut to the chase. You insist that you are entitled to receive our tax dollars when many of us are facing the same hardships currently facing you? While you were negotiating deals with your employer, we were busy working and struggling to pay for our own health care expenses. We were putting money into our 401(k) accounts that rise and fall with the market. We "get what we get" and our only entitlement is from an unfunded Social Security system.
You complain about the horrible devastation that would ensue from a reduction in your retirement benefits. Rest assured that we understand your plight, because that has already happened to many of us. So while we do empathize with you, we are unmoved. Why? Because we are too busy dealing with our own problems.
We do not understand your refusal to make concessions that will at least give your employer a fighting chance to survive? Remember, we are struggling, too. But what would you do if we were not around and your only recourse was to renegotiate with an ailing Golden Goose? Would your president, Ron Gettelfinger, renegotiate with the Golden Goose to accept fewer eggs or would he continue to be Ron "Middlefinger" and flip the bird at the Golden Goose until it dies trying to lay the agreed-upon number of eggs?
Your reference to the enactment of the $700 billion TARP program as justification for bailing out your employers doesn't work for us. We hate that bailout and resent that it was jammed down our throats by many of the same politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen who created the problem. We know almost nothing about that TARP program (which means we know only slightly less than those who are actually spending that money). And because we don't even know who that money is going to, do you really think we're now going to say, "Ah, what the heck? What's another $15 billion between friends?" That is a slippery slope -- the "devastating loss of jobs" argument can be made by numerous industries that are "too big to fail."
Many of us are just now becoming aware of facts that do not engender sympathy for your cause. Consider your "jobs bank" program. While UAW members are entitled to receive 95% of their base pay along with all benefits after they are laid off, most of us are lucky to get two weeks' severance pay and a COBRA application for insurance that we will probably not be able to afford in our newly unemployed condition?
That jobs bank program offends us at such a visceral level that your credibility is irreparably destroyed. While it's nice to be you, most of us who are unemployed are busy trying to find a job and are therefore not able to sponsor your Golden Egg Extraction Program, otherwise known as "GEEP." If you wish to continue GEEP, you must do it without our participation.
4. Prepackaged Bankruptcy Is an Option
There is no legitimate reason why a prepackaged bankruptcy using debtor-in-possession financing with us as the debtor-in-possession would be any less effective than simply writing a check to be administered by a "car czar," otherwise known as a government appointed fall guy to whom politicians can pass the buck?
Many of us are unsophisticated, but we do know that a bankruptcy trustee would void your contracts and declare that "a deal is not a deal." Your industry is currently in shambles, and there is no guarantee that avoiding bankruptcy will do anything more than delay the loss of jobs you claim will result from a bankruptcy proceeding.
Face it, your employers are all on life support and any process to save them will be very messy. There are no clean fixes, and if we thought a $15 billion sponge bath would save a critically ill patient, we'd send that nurse today! But your fear of bankruptcy merely reveals your underlying motivation as well as the incompetence and lack of imagination of your employer. You are not thinking outside the box. Well, we are here to help.
In the spirit of teamwork, here is a free marketing suggestion from us. Tell your employers not to say bankruptcy; describe it as reorganization. Simply put, "bankruptcy" sounds bad and signifies failure. "Reorganization," if properly marketed, can evoke a spirit of teamwork. Think about it -- the UAW, your employer and us -- all a part of the same team working to make America great. You've already got a pre-packaged, cost-effective ad campaign that can be rolled out tomorrow!
A short video clip gets the job done: While climbing into a Ford, General Motors or Chrysler car (in fact, do one version for each automaker), Vice President-elect Joe Biden reprises his immortal words justifying higher taxes on the most productive Americans: "It's time to jump in! Time to be patriotic! Time to be part of the deal! Time to buy an American car!" We think that ad is a home run!
Let's work from confrontation to resolution by agreeing that while we are not union bashers; neither are we union members. We recognize your constitutional right to enter into binding contracts with private parties -- but we are not a party to the contracts with your employers. So when your employers is in danger of breaching, we aren't obligated to help out. And if we do choose to help out, we have every right to require terms that put you on the same level playing field as our home turf -- that is, the field of capitalism.
If you continue to stall for time until the next administration takes the reins in the hope that your political support will be rewarded by union-favorable expenditures of money that we'd rather keep for ourselves, you can rest assured that many of us will also be happy to take the reins. We'd rather buy a horse and saddle than buy one of your employers' cars for three reasons.
First, we'd resent you for extorting our money when we need it ourselves.
Second, your employers' labor costs would be passed along to us in the form of either an inferior automobile or a higher sticker price.
Third, the higher price paid for a UAW-made car would amount to being double-billed for the same product because we'd already have contributed our tax dollars to subsidize the high labor costs incurred by your employer.
In America, we work as a team when the chips are down. It is time for you to jump in, be patriotic, and be a part of the deal. If you refuse, then we can only assume that you are a part of the problem rather than the solution, and we will cease to do business with you or your employers.
Please get back to us on this at your earliest convenience.
Dan Fitzpatrick is the publisher of
, an advisory newsletter and educational forum dedicated to teaching effective risk management and trading methodologies to aspiring traders and investors. He is a former hedge fund manager and a member of the Market Technicians Association, and he now trades from his home in San Diego, Calif. While Fitzpatrick holds various securities licenses, he does not give recommendations to buy or sell stocks. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. He appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.