When parts maker went Delphi went belly-up on Saturday, the doomsday clock started ticking for the United Auto Workers (UAW). According to Delphi s prez, the union has until mid-December to agree to drastic cuts to its 25k Delphi members wages, benefits and pensions; outright dismissal of several thousand employees and the shuttering of up to 25 plants. Otherwise CallmeSteve Miller will ask a federal judge to terminate Delphi s UAW contract. This will lead to a strike, which will destroy GM, which will destroy the union. So it s interesting to parse the UAW s official response to Delphi s filing.
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker today issued this statement on the decision by Delphi Corp. to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection:
Now that s weird: the UAW s response to Delphi s bankruptcy is couched as a joint statement. Either Big Ron and Tricky Dicky are at war with each other for control of the union, or they both fail to grasp the importance of presenting a single, strong figurehead. The eerie bloodlessness of the text that follows is no surprise, given the cold newspeak that precedes it.
The UAW is deeply disappointed by the decision by the Board of Directors of Delphi Corp. to today file for bankruptcy.
You couldn t ask for a more condescending phrase than deeply disappointed. Obviously, Big Ron and Tricky Dicky see the union in the paternal role. Son, I m deeply disappointed that you set our house on fire. That was a very silly thing to do. The word disappointed is startling in its casualness. Surely this seminal moment in the union s seventy-year history deserved a little more rhetorical firepower. When the IRA or Al Qaeda blows people up in the UK, officials are always shocked and saddened. That would have worked
Delphi s decision is obviously an extremely bitter pill for the 25,000 Delphi workers represented by the UAW as well as for the thousands of workers represented by other unions and non-union salaried Delphi employees all of whom have worked hard to try to make Delphi s U.S. operations successful.
I don t think Big Ron or Tricky Dicky penned this press release. It has that passive, clunky, run-on, over-inclusiveness that typifies PR speak. What s more, the bitter pill metaphor is precisely the wrong way to go. Not only is it a bit of an egg-head expression (as is the use of the term whom ), but it also paints the bankruptcy filing as strong but vital medicine — as opposed to an epic, avoidable mistake. The word obviously used here is yet another excessively casual and condescending expression that appeals to the union leadership s sense of self-importance, rather than its members sense of outrage.
from the outset of talks about a possible bankruptcy filing, Delphi made it clear that the UAW alone could not solve the company s problems. Delphi today informed the UAW that it was filing for bankruptcy - more than a week before the new federal bankruptcy law will go into effect.
Notice the errant quotation mark before the second sentence. The sentence was probably pasted from somewhere else; it fails to capitalize on or clarify the previous sentence s odd assertion that Delphi would have filed for bankruptcy even if the UAW had capitulated to its demands. By mounting the it wasn t me defense in such a weak and roundabout way, the UAW missed a vital chance to deflect criticism of its members compensation.
Of course, the traditional union defense is offense. Finally, in the sixth paragraph, the UAW sticks it to the man.
Delphi s decision would be extremely disappointing under any circumstances, but it is all the more so in light of the company s announcement on Friday just one day before filing bankruptcy — that it had sweetened the severance packages for Delph s 21 most highly compensated executives because the old severance package was as a Delphi spokesperson put it — uncompetitive.
Someone over at the UAW is fond of extreme games: it s the second time they ve used the adjective. Still, you can dress up disappointing any way you like — extremely, deeply, madly — but you can t take it anywhere. It s just not strong enough for the situation. The misspelling of Delphi s name is another dropped ball: a sloppy failure that undermines the press release s patrician and patronizing tone.
That said, the sarcasm is delicious, the attack fully warranted and the use of parenthesis over the word uncompetitive champion. You can almost feel the old school union members warming up for battle. The next paragraph is pure genius.
Once again, we see the disgusting spectacle of the people at the top taking care of themselves at the same time they are demanding extraordinary sacrifices from their hourly workers, engineers, administrative and support staff, mid-level managers and others. All of them deserved better from Delphi s senior executive leadership.
Ah, there s nothing like a bit of old-fashioned class warfare to bring out union creativity and passion. The phrase disgusting spectacle stands out a mile — because it works so well. If only this had been the UAW s first paragraph, rather than its last. And that s the really bizarre thing about this statement: it ends there. No talk of future actions, no dark threats, no message of solidarity to its members, nothing. The UAW simply throws a bomb at Delphi s management and runs away.
As a piece of rhetoric, the UAW s statement is an abject failure. It s cold, uninformative and boring. As unintentional insight into the UAW s mindset, it s scary stuff. Clearly, the UAW doesn t want to acknowledge the stakes of the game they re playing. Clearly, they lack the PR skills to win the public s hearts and minds. I suspect that the prevailing ethos is still actions speak louder than words . In other words, an industry-killing strike is inevitable.
[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]