NYT celebrates lower wages

Press Criticism | By Craig Gurian |

Sept. 14, 2011 — It was disorienting to read yesterday’s article on the temporary two-tier wage structure in the auto industry that appears on its way to no longer being temporary. I thought I was reading The New York Times — even checked the masthead after finishing the article in order to to reconfirm — but I’m still having a hard time imagining that the paper wasn’t temporarily taken over by Chrysler’s public relations department.

Naturally, auto companies are happy to be able to pay employees less — much less — than they have in the past. It is true that the lower-wage workers aspire to be paid more one day. But, “for now, employees like [one cited in the article] are exhilarated by their steady paychecks and the emotional reward of being part of Chrysler’s turnaround.”

The article is dealing with a very important issue. What was sold to workers as a temporary measure is turning into one of those “new normals.”

“What was once seen as a desperate move to prop up the struggling auto industry,” the article reports, “is now considered an integral part of its future.” Not surprisingly, “companies say the two-tier wages are paying off.”

But if lower wages for auto workers is a phenomenon that threatens to become permanent, shouldn’t there be a serious societal discussion of the consequences? Shouldn’t we ask what these changes mean to the lives of workers?

Unfortunately, the article didn’t look at that side of the equation. And that side of the equation is real, and it’s not pretty.

I know because Remapping Debate ran an in-depth story several weeks ago — A darker future for “Tier 2” workers — in the face of another enthusiastic story in the Times on how GM was standing automaking “on its head” with a “radically revamped factory” for building a sub-compact car. That earlier Times article had also failed to look at the question of how much and how good of a middle-class life the lower-tier workers could expect to enjoy.

Here’s the quick answer: not so much and not so good.


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