American Axle

By Lee Sustar

ABOUT 500 striking workers and supporters picketed the flagship plant of American Axle Manufacturing (AAM) in Detroit March 24 as workers approached their fourth week on the picket line.

"It was an exciting event," said Wendy Thompson, the retired former president of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 235, which represents workers at the plant. "A lot of people from other locals were there. We marched up and down the streets, to the glass house by the freeway"--AAM's corporate offices.

Thompson added: "We put on a show for [AAM CEO] Dick Dauch, which was important because he had threatened to have workers arrested for doing informational picketing in that area."

Dauch last year hauled in $5.55 million--not including his bonus, which has yet to be calculated. "Most of Dauch's pay was stock and options worth roughly $3.99 million on the day they were granted," the Associated Press reported. "He also earned $1.47 million in salary and $94,684 in other compensation, a category that includes perks such as life insurance, use of company vehicles and meals during business hours."

This is a man who wants workers to take an immediate pay cut from about $26 or $27 per hour to just $14 per hour. These draconian demands forced the UAW to call a strike at five AAM plants in Michigan and New York.

Although AAM is profitable, Dauch apparently believes he can get away with pay cuts because the UAW last year agreed to pay cuts of about 50 percent for new hires in "non-core" jobs off the production line in assembly plants. The UAW had earlier agreed to similar wage cuts at parts maker Delphi, which, like AAM, was spun off from General Motors years ago.

But where Delphi and the Big Three automakers offered buyouts and early retirement packages to high-seniority workers and restricted the lower-tier pay to new hires, AAM wants the cuts in immediately.

According to documents published in the Detroit Free Press, the UAW International objected to these demands--but offered a $5 wage cut instead. When management refused to budge, the union called a strike February 26.

AAM workers--who accepted two-tier agreements years ago--believe that they should get the same pay as axle plant workers at Ford and Chrysler plants, Thompson said.

This strike has shown that the UAW, despite its loss of membership, still has plenty of power: 28 GM assembly plants have been partially or fully closed for lack of axles. The outcome of this strike will determine whether UAW workers can begin to reverse the tide of concessions in the industry.