Growing up in Michigan, it had always been my intention to avoid the automotive industry and its volatile nature, but as many people find, especially those in the Flint and Detroit area, it is very difficult. Ten years ago, when I graduated from U of M, I started pursuing a job as a technical writer and quickly learned that Michigan’s economy was already suffering. It took over a year before I landed a job with EDS, a contract company to General Motors OnStar where I activated the vehicles phone systems. The job was an hour commute as I lived in Flint and found myself driving to Troy.
I spent two years watching EDS flounder and searching for a technical writing position and when the company finally lost their account with GM I took a position as an Asset Manager back in Flint. The position was with another contract company called ICR and I was to manage the inventory of repair parts at GM Flint Metal Center. This work lasted another four years until they too lost their account with GM. It was at this time that I moved to my current employer, Lincoln and began my MFA program with the hopes of finally getting out of the automotive worlds customary cycle, now you’re here now you’re not.
Over the years I saw a lot of people lose their jobs to outsourcing, India, Canada, Mexico etc. It was while working with Lincoln that I experienced the worst of the attrition that happened at the big three automakers though. I watched thousands upon thousands of people get forced into early retirements or simply lose their jobs. It was dumbfounding to hear then that President Obama was touting gains in automotive jobs since June. When I think of a gain I think of surpassing a previous milestone.
In my opinion, Michigan has yet to gain any jobs in the automotive industry. These are jobs that already existed and have now been re-filled, but here in lies the real problem. What Obama fails to mention is that the workers being brought back are either temporary or are workers who have been brought back at half the pay that those jobs use to make. What is clear though is that the big three used the economic downturn to their advantage by breaking the unions, cutting salaries, hourly wages and benefits while increasing profitability, none of which has been passed on in the form of cheaper vehicles for the public.
Three days ago I was speaking with a supervisor at GM’s Buick Plant 81 and he was ranting about how the company had re-hired several retired employees. I told him that was great, but then he said it wasn’t because they were all temporary and had only been brought back to decommission the plant. This also happened at GM’s Willow Run, which will be shuttering its doors this year as well.
Around a month ago I had a long conversation with some electricians at the Chrysler Warren Truck Plant about their situation. They expressed their deep concern for the workers who were brought back because all of them had been rehired at $10 to $14 an hour, which was at least half of what that job use to pay and on top of that they were no longer given insurance, meaning a further pay cut for now these individuals would have to pay out of pocket for coverage. The electricians also said that none of them were eligible for raises so the pay they were earning now was the pay they would retire at.
This sentiment was mirrored by an electrician, I’ll call “Sea Bass”, at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, but he added that many of the people who build the cars will not be able to afford them. He also said something that many people talk about here and that is “this is not a down economy; this is the new economy in Michigan”. Much of Michigan has been in a depression long before the country fell into a recession and it will likely be in this state long after the country comes out of the recession too.