Auto Workers Protest 'Maquila' Conditions in U.S.

A group of auto workers and supporters will demonstrate at the International Auto Show in Detroit next Sunday and Monday, to call attention to the “maquiladora model” they say the auto companies are applying in their U.S. plants.

They decry “an agenda that allows permanent 'temporaries,' outsources in-plant jobs to companies paying as low as $9 an hour, and increases the pace of work.” Management, they say, no longer wants long-term employees but “prefers the maquiladora model, where one rarely lasts more than ten years.”

President Obama made his 2009 salvage of the Big Three car makers a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, and the United Auto Workers played up the union’s role in the new contracts. But dissenting auto workers chafed at the terms of the bailout. “The pacts sent a signal to workers,” their leaflet says: “don't complain, just 'be happy you have a job.'”

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The pact froze existing workers' wages at around $28, while new-hires now make around $16. Companies are implementing “Flexible Operating Patterns” that keep workers on the line 10 to 11.5 hours a day.

The demonstration at the Auto Show, which attracts press from around the world, has become an annual event. This year protesters will be joined by a representative of injured and fired GM workers in Colombia, who've been camped outside the U.S. embassy there demanding their jobs or compensation.

The Autoworker Caravan group was born in late 2008 out of efforts to push Obama's auto bailout in a worker-friendly—and planet-friendly—direction. The group said the government intervention wasted an opportunity to retool the industry to build clean cars and mass transit.

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer.