Ask any factory worker what keeps him awake at night.
Chances are high that he’s worrying about losing his job to a foreign factory, where people are willing to work for less.
That competition for jobs pits workers against one another. Or, at least, it has in the past. Some union members are now approaching the situation from a different angle.
Five local Dana Holding Corp. workers are traveling to Mexico next week to deepen a fledgling relationship with unionized Dana foundry workers outside Mexico City in Tlalnepantla. The idea is to help the Mexicans negotiate for better wages and benefits when their contract comes up for renewal.
The steelworkers are fighters. We stand up for anybody, said Dennis Leazier, vice president of United Steelworkers Local 903.
Some local members question the strategy behind the four-day trip, however. People are like: What the hell? It’s a conflict of interest,’ Leazier said.
But Leazier and others believe that raising Mexico’s standard of living will make the country less attractive as a source of cheap labor. That means Americans have a better chance of keeping their jobs.
The effort goes even further, said Jim Robinson, director for United Steelworkers District 7, which includes Indiana and Illinois.
As (Mexican workers) make more money, they can afford a better standard of living and stimulate the Mexican economy, he said.
And as the Mexican middle class grows, so will the demand for cars, refrigerators and just about everything. Dana and other manufacturers will serve a larger market, allowing them to employ more workers in the U.S., Mexico and overseas.
Everybody wins in that scenario.
But some labor leaders believe corporate America is too shortsighted to support the strategy.
They’re too focused on their next quarterly report – cutting and running. That’s the problem, said Tom Lewandowski, president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. They’re not interested in building an economy.
Mark Gevaart, president of United Auto Workers Local 2209, agreed. He represents workers in General Motors’ Allen County truck assembly plant.
Dana spokesmen did not provide a comment on Monday or Tuesday for this story.
The UAW is establishing relationships with workers and automakers in Japan, German, Sweden and Mexico, he said. Gevaart has never considered workers in those countries enemies of his union members.
With U.S. union support, Leazier said, one group of Mexican union workers increased its wages to $10 an hour from $5 an hour in five years.
Darren Peters, Local 903 president, said helping Mexicans raise their standard of living is the right thing to do.
We’re all about a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage, he said.