OPINION: Happiness is owning your own sports team – maybe

UAW Local 2250

If you had enough money to own the St. Louis Cardinals, would you be happy? No? How about owning your own professional sports league?

How much money is enough was one question asked at the UAW Nationwide Town Hall held via Zoom on May 31, 2023. This event focused on the upcoming negotiations with the Detroit 3 automakers and was open to all UAW members. Going into this fall’s contract talks hourly workers at GM, Ford, and Stellantis are looking to restore wages and benefits lost during the Great Recession of 2008.

Currently, ‘temporary” workers earn $16.67 an hour and newly hired permanent members start at $17 per hour. From that humble beginning it will be an eight-year journey to reach full scale. Making this situation more unbearable is the fact that in the last four years inflation has reduced the purchasing power of autoworker wages by $3.71 an hour. Put another way, to keep up with inflation auto wages should have increased $3.71 an hour since the last contract was ratified in 2019.

Wages will be a primary focus of this year’s negotiations.

Of course, like the sun rising or an executive getting a golden parachute after bankruptcy, the companies will be claiming poverty when it is time to sit down and bargain over hourly pay.

Never mind that vehicle prices, profit margins and executive compensation have all gone up. Ignore the news that GM reinstated its quarterly cash dividend and authorized a stock buyback of $5,000,000,000 (about $15 per person in the U.S.)! Stock buybacks increase the value of the remaining shares including those of company executives. Most of all, please forget that GM CEO Mary Barra, in early 2022, stated the company would “consider all opportunities to return excess capital to shareholders.”

During the Town Hall, UAW leadership highlighted the hypocrisy of company efforts to plead poverty. This was done with a simple graphic that every sports fan can relate to. In the last 10 years, the Detroit 3 have made profits of almost a quarter of a trillion dollars. That is $250,000,000,000 (about $770 per person in the U.S.). That is enough money to buy every team in the NHL, NBA and Major Leage Baseball. After all this they would still have $50 billion!

Let us re-phrase the opening line of this article. If you could own all the teams in a professional sports league would that make you happy? How about two or three leagues?

UAW members would be happy if auto executives embraced GM CEO Mary Barra’s sentiments and “consider the opportunity to return a fair share of the excess capital to those that build the product.”

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