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The union held me back, as auto workers will find out

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Pity the members of the United Auto Workers who are ratifying new deals with the Big Three automakers. 

Sure, they got some combination of wage hikes, better benefits packages and other perks. But they’re being locked into another contract that will stifle their potential, crushing their spirit and, in time, the companies that employ them.

I say this from experience. As a college student in 1979, I worked in a grey-iron factory in Ohio, making engine blocks. My job was to use mini-jackhammers and grinding tools to get the imperfections off the blocks as they came off the production line. 

UAW Union

Pity the UAW members who are ratifying new deals with the Big Three automakers. (Reuters/Rebecca Cook)

Being a clueless 20-year-old, I pushed myself to go faster with each one. I figured that if I worked hard, I’d get promoted, because I’d surely be noticed.

AS UAW STRIKE NEARS SETTLEMENT, LET’S HOPE THIS ONE DEMAND ISN’T MET

Noticed, I was. First, my coworkers started whispering behind my back. Then, after a few days, my supervisor came to my stall. He motioned for me to take off my ear protection, then gave me an earful. You’re going too fast, he said, just keep pace with everyone else.

In those words, I heard what I knew was an evil idea. The union wanted me, and everyone I worked with, to do less than was possible. Forget striving to be great. Good enough was just fine.

I’ve seen the same mentality since moving to Illinois in my mid-20s. The state is run by unions, and while it’s more public-sector than private these days, the ethos is the same. 

UAW STRIKE: BIDEN HAS STARTED A WAR DEMOCRATS CAN’T WIN. IT’S GREEN VS. UNIONS

One-size-fits-all contracts limit what workers can do, instead of encouraging them to do more, and rewarding them accordingly. The unions are putting people in boxes instead of empowering them to think outside the box. At some point, even good enough is a bridge too far. Chicago public schools are proof of that.

I often think of my colleagues in that grey-iron factory, with all their squashed ambition and untapped talent. They were told, like me, that pushing themselves was the enemy. 

FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2015, file photo, the Ford logo shines on the front grille of a 2014 Ford F-150, on display at a local dealership in Hialeah, Fla. Ford will build a new $1.6 billion factory in Mexico, creating about 2,800 jobs and shifting small-car production from the U.S. The announcement Tuesday, April 5, 2016 comes at a time when moving jobs to the south has become a major issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

 In the wake of the strike, GM, Ford and Stellantis are set to have labor costs that are 60% to 100% more than they are at Tesla and foreign companies. (AP)

Never mind that entrepreneurs like Henry Ford never settled. Never mind that the human heart yearns to produce and improve and excel, no matter your skills or station in life. 

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The heads of labor unions want the opposite: Individual success without the initiative and entrepreneurial thinking on which success ultimately depends.

You can’t have one without the other. In the wake of the UAW strike, GM, Ford and Stellantis are set to have labor costs that are 60% to 100% more than they are at Tesla and foreign companies. (It would have been even worse had the UAW got its demand for a four-day work week – the definition of ditching individual potential.) 

Striking United Auto Workers members

Striking UAW members picket outside the Stellantis Jeep plant, in Toledo, Ohio, on Sept. 19, 2023. (Reuters/Rebecca Cook)

Workers will enjoy the perks now, but they won’t like it when the Big Three start the automation, layoffs and plant closures that are inevitable if the companies hope to compete long-term. 

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UAW members would truly thrive if they were free to push themselves and improve automakers through the question-asking and problem-solving that union contracts typically prohibit.

UAW members deserve better than this “victory.” Their union has pitted them against their employers, and worse, against their own flourishing. Nothing good, much less great, will come of it.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM JOHN TILLMAN


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