An Answer for the North American auto industry
|Workers leave a GM plant in Oshawa in April, 2008.|
It's time for out-of-the-box thinking to save the auto industry. It's an integrated system so answers must involve the entire workforce from Canada and the United States and (eventually) Mexico. When the congressional bailout for bridge financing for the Big 3 failed last week, Capitol Hill fingers pointed at the UAW for refusing to make any concessions. However, President George W. Bush later suggested the Administration will come up with close to $15 billion for the auto makers because the industry is simply too big to fail. Canada will likely follow with roughly $4 billion to save plants on this side of the border.
Considering the long-term expenses of these manufacturing auto giants, it's a giant money pit, especially with the tough contracts negotiated by the United Auto Workers over the years. Media reports last week examined the huge advantage Asian auto makers have over their North American counterparts. It's not so much in paying lower wages and the related expenses of paid holidays, weekend pay and overtime, but rather the legacy costs of health care and pensions paid to retirees. Plus, Asian car makers pay less in health care, training and other benefits for employees. The difference in hourly wages between unionized plants in the U.S. and Canada and a non-unionized Japanese plant in the U.S. is about $5. But when you start looking at what the North American auto makers have to pay out to long-gone workers in pension and health-care benefits, you see how much these companies really suffer. That's where unionized companies start paying $8 to $13 more an hour on pensions and more on health care, bringing total hourly charges to around $70 an hour for unionized U.S. and Canadian plants, compared to under $50 for the Japanese.
It's been suggested government could pick up pension costs. But throwing money at the problem is short-term thinking. Plus, other companies would be lined up around the block before the deal had been made. Rather, Canada should come up with replacement industry that could solve problems for the Big 3 on both sides of the border and give Canadian entrepreneurs a strong, independent alternative for jobs and R&D. Canada could offer cutting-edge technology in a chain of assisted suicide centres that offer a humane way out for Big 3 pensioners who are suffering as their quality of life deteriorates. It would, simultaneously, whittle down pension lists. So far, the Netherlands has taken the lead in exploring assisted suicide, but there is no reason Canada could not become the world leader in an industry that offers hope to pensioners and, down the road, an option to include Big 3 employees and family members who face a lifetime of pain — both physical and mental — along with their medical procedures. It could be the humane choice.
There could be accompanying centres at Canadian universities and colleges studying the human rights law of euthanasia, again offering world-leader potential for Canada. As well, the option of spa and hospital accommodation — holiday package tours for the family — is enormous. If the program begins on a broad scale, everyone on the Big 3 pension lists would be considered eligible. Hopefully, it would operate on a voluntary basis, however the larger needs of society would, at some point, overcome any vestige of public concern. The government would have to pass forward-thinking legislation to cover off legal necessities.
Or, it could be a more modest proposal at the beginning, with only a few lottery winners from the ranks of Big 3 pensioners getting slots at a new euthanasia centre. As publicity grew, need is sure to outstrip capacity, which would lead to more growth in Canada's new national enterprise.
Canada must not stay bogged down in life support for outdated industry. The future lies in a new science and health-based technology that offers concrete answers to a problem that otherwise won't be solved.