Why Unionized Auto Workers Have The Election Day Off And You Don't

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Politico thought it got itself a scoop this morning, when it reported that Chrysler was giving its workers the day off to vote.

"The car company that attacked Mitt Romney for falsely claiming it was moving operations overseas is going a step further, ostensibly for President Obama," Politico declared.


Then, Chrysler's Ralph Gilles muddled up the situation further when he tweeted, "Chrysler gave its entire workforce the day off to Vote Today! Let's Go! #America"

Gilles, of course, jumped on Donald Trump last week for repeating wildly inaccurate information about Chrysler moving Jeep production to China. (Did we mention it's wildly inaccurate?) He later amended his tweet:


It turns out that UAW members at ALL the Detroit car companies get Election Day off, and they have since the contracts that were signed in 1999, as Reuters reporter Deepa Seetharaman and I pointed out. (Politico has since updated its story, although not the somewhat inflammatory lede. Because, why would you stop saying something that others have proven to be wrong?)

The election day holiday is a little known perk for members of a union that has been an American political force since its earliest days. The union's best-known president, Walter Reuther, took aggressive steps after World War II to build the UAW's clout, joining Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1963 March on Washington


In 1999, as The New York Times explains, then-UAW president Stephen P. Yokich negotiated the day off for workers at an estimated cost back then of $100 million in payroll expenses to the three companies.

As the Times put it,

(Yokich) said that the union's goal was not to elect more Democrats, but rather to elect more candidates who advocated issues important to workers. By increasing labor's importance on Election Day, the union hopes to give candidates an incentive to take stances more sympathetic to the unions, he said in an interview.

''It isn't the party that matters, it matters what they do for us and where they stand on issues,'' Mr. Yokich said, adding that, ''If I were a candidate, I'd be talking not about free trade but about fair trade.''

At the time Yokich said he hoped UAW members would view the day as something more than a mid-week freebie. He expected them to vote, and work for candidates that they (and presumably the union) supported. "It's not a holiday; it's a day to show you're a good American citizen," Yokich said.


The holiday has been so important to the union that it has clung to it through bankruptcies at General Motors and Chrysler, tough times at Ford and a swath of concessions at all three companies. Now, election day is a school holiday for students in some places, such as Ascension Parish in Louisiana.

Hopefully, UAW moms and dads and parents, period, are taking their kids to the polls with them today. And maybe some of them see an election as an important enough reason to take a day off. Certainly, it's as important as shooting a deer in the boiler room.


Photo Credit: AP