Friday, July 29, 2011

Where Is It Going To Stop?

We have been spending a lot of time up in Home Town the past few months. While driving past the local BMW dealership, I have seen a few people picketing on the sidewalk in front of the store. At first, I thought perhaps the picketers were dissatisfied customers, who had not been able to receive satisfaction through the dealership.

As BMW has a reputation for excellent customer service, I had doubts about my theory. After several weekends of seeing these people walking with signs, I decided to stop and investigate further.

It turns out that the picketing is part of a labor action against BMW of North America. The beef centers around a parts distribution warehouse in Ontario Ca and the teamsters local which represents 68 workers at the plant.

The workers were recently notified that their contract, which expires at the end of August, won't be renewed. The company's plan is to contract out the operation of the warehouse to a third party, which will hire non-union employees and pay them below a living wage. Apparently, the issue isn't about contract negotiations or wage and benefit concessions. The company is not talking about those matters. The only thing BMW is willing to discuss is severance packages.

Needless to say, the Teamsters aren't taking this laying down.

Protests have been staged at BMW dealerships around the south-land and at the attorney's office who is representing BMW of North America. Further actions are planned.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the plant has received several awards of excellence from BMW, citing efficiency and several top ranked employees are assigned to the Ontario warehouse. The fact that BMW received a 3.6 billion dollar bail-out loan several years ago and made nearly 5 billion last year aren't helping cool the flames either.

I'm sure that there are some who have little sympathy for the teamsters, even in this battle. Here's why I think this is important. Many of us ignore these kinds of issues until it is our ox's turn to get gored. Then we raise hell about the issue as it affects us. Many of us have made concessions regarding our wages and hours - we recognize that these are challenging times and have made adjustments accordingly. May of us have lost our jobs due to companies going bust or our agencies losing funding.

That is not the case here. BMW is making money, the shareholders are making money and the plant is healthy and viable. BMW is attempting to capitalize on the current economic situation and the groundswell of anti-union sentiment that is prevalent and eliminate the collective bargaining process for the employees.

When I graduated from high school, there were options for people who did not wish to go to college or trade school. They could go into the trades or work at several manufacturing plants in the area. That is no longer an option for most. Most of the manufacturing jobs have gone away - the products are made overseas. The trades are now done by immigrant labor, many of whom are here illegally.

The United States is different in that we have always left enough prosperity for the working and middle class. That difference is fading away for most.

Where is it going to stop? Twenty years from now, are the Chinese going to have missionary trips to this country and build us garage door houses? I wonder.

Good luck to the folks over at the Ontario BMW warehouse. I hope that BMWNA changes their mind. Judging from the public statements made by BMW, I fear that it is a losing battle.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Cap,

    I may have mentioned it before, but your comment "Many of us ignore these kinds of issues until it is our ox's turn to get gored." hit home. As a career firefighter in the military reserves, I've been listening to many of my career military friends extol the virtues of the Tea Party and Ron Paul, and they slam unions left and right. Most of these guys joined the military at age 18-20 and have never held another job, which has led them to believe that, like the military, everyone gets an opportunity to gain rank and pay if they just work hard enough. They all complain about the evil unions and continually amaze me with their ignorance of the civilian world.

    Lo and behold, recently Congress started grilling the Joint Chiefs about military retirement, healthcare, and pay, and are floating the idea of ending annual raises and forcing military personnel into a 401K. The horror! Now they are all jumping up and down, how dare they mess with THEIR benefits. After all, they risk their lives when they deploy, even if they are career recruiters and supply/admin folks who never went on a patrol. I tell them regularly that cops and firefighters risk their lives at work for more often than your average servicemember, yet no longer get the same respect. I don't want to see military benefits cut, but what's good for the goose...


  2. John - I'll bet congress won't be changing their own benefits package anytime soon! Thanks for the comment.

  3. "The company's plan is to contract out the operation of the warehouse to a third party, which will hire non-union employees and pay them below a living wage."

    Can you be more specific about what that means? Who would accept less than a "living wage"?

  4. fche- as BMWNA isn't talking on the issue I can't be specific as to what the contractor will be offering.

    You are right, the term "living wage" is a bit vague and subjective and I can't really define it.

    I can, however, define what living wage isn't.

    It isn't ten or twelve bucks an hour and no health insurance coverage, wages that are not uncommon in some of the larger warehouses in the area.

    As far as your second question, thousands in our area seem to be willing to work at jobs that do not allow them to survive without some form of government assistance, living two or three families to an apartment while working 60+ hours a week.

    Many do so, because at this time, that is the only option available to them. There are just not that many higher paying jobs available.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. "thousands in our area seem to be willing to work at jobs that do not allow them to survive without some form of government assistance"

    I wonder then whether some of the blame rests with that government (taxpayer) assistance that enables such low wages.

  6. fche - Undoubtedly. That, along with an endless supply of cheap labor - another policy, helps as well.