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NBC On Auto Pilot Backs Union, Ignores Carmaker


NBC On Auto Pilot Backs Union, Ignores Carmaker
News show relies on UAW president, former autoworker and labor expert to tell a one-sided business story.

by  Megan Alvarez
July 12, 2005

     NBC took viewers for a ride with a one-sided story on the battle between the United Auto Workers (UAW) and General Motors. The July 11, 2005, NBC Nightly News story was about the rising cost of the healthcare plan of the UAW and how it is affecting GMs ability to compete in the global marketplace only no GM spokespeople were interviewed.

     An onscreen graphic showed the problem GM was facing: in 1955 GMs market share of the U.S. auto market was 95%, today its share is 58%.

     The story featured UAW President, Ron Gettelfinger, a member of the UAW, Jerry Allen, and a labor relations expert, Robert Bruno. Missing in this report was any representative from GM.

     Reporter, Anne Thompson reported that GM was in a billion-dollar hole and one problem that remained unsolved in climbing out of that hole was the rising healthcare costs GM must pay in union contracts. Thompson noted that the cost is expected to be at $5.6 billion this year. According to an April 14, 2005, Reuters report, this averages out to $1,500 per vehicle. Thompson called the UAWs healthcare plan, the Cadillac of healthcare plans, noting that UAW members pay no premiums and a maximum of a $10 co-pay on prescriptions.

     According to Thompsons report, renegotiating this healthcare plan was not on UAWs agenda. UAW President Gettelfinger criticized the company, To say that General Motors is in a crisis mode today when they have $20 billion in cash reserves, when they're paying shareholders dividends, I'm not sure that that's the right term that anyone would want to use. A GM retiree then noted, If they take a little today, six months on down the road they'll get a little bit more, a little bit more. Where does it end?

     Thompsons report did not include any interviews with a GM spokesperson who could have represented the companys position on the issue. Instead, the only attempt at outside comment came from labor relations expert, Robert Bruno, who essentially reiterated the UAWs stance when he said, Given the importance of health care to the UAW, this is a seminal moment in their history, in--and for the labor movement nationwide.

     Bruno would have been better labeled as a labor expert. He is a professor at the University of Illinois and is a co-chair of the Chicago Center for Working Class Studies, an organization supported by numerous unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, United Food and Commercial Union, and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, as well as many others. According to Brunos curriculum vitae, found on his university faculty page, Bruno presented a teaching workshop titled, Politics of Confusion: the Rise of the New Right at a United Association of Labor Educators/AFL-CIO Education Conference on April 12, 2002.

     According to the March 7, 2003, issue of the Chicago Reader, Bruno released a study criticizing the Chicago Tribunes labor coverage as having an anti-working class bias hampers the newspaper's reporters and editors' efforts to more accurately describe unionized worker activity.

     The story added that The Chicago Tribune was selected because its editorializing on labor relations has routinely communicated a conservative point of view and its assaults on organized labor have a long pedigree.

     Thompsons attempt at balance then was no attempt at all. However, by using a vague title like labor relations expert, she presented Bruno as a neutral figure even though he was not.

     The article Foreign Makers, Settled in South, Pace Car Industry by Micheline Maynard, which was featured in a BMI article, Times Brings Balance to Outsourcing Coverage, covered the reasons behind the latest growth in foreign automaker factories in the South. One key factor that led automakers to locate in the South, which Maynard pointed out, was that many Southern states do not require workers to unionize. Due to this, the foreign owned factories locating in the South have not been buried beneath impossible union contracts with overwhelming benefit packages. According to the article, actual salaries were only slightly lower in the foreign owned plants. However, when health care and other benefits were taken into account, union workers earned about $55 an hour, nearly 15 percent more than nonunion workers.