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Conyers: Let the UAW Run the Big 3

10:50 AM, Dec 8, 2008 • By BRIAN FAUGHNAN
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The logic is elegant:

One Black lawmaker from the Motor City, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), weighed in following the presentations of options by the automakers that appeared to be filled with gloom and doom.

Conyers wants the new administration to elevate United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger into the position of "auto czar."

"Over the last month, there has been much discussion about the need for a strong central figure to oversee the dramatic changes being undertaken by the auto industry. It is my belief that a Cabinet-level ‘auto czar' would provide this type of leadership and help President Obama successfully coordinate his administration's efforts on behalf of the industry," Conyers said.

I'm not sure a czar is what's needed, but it's clear the industry needs some un-divided attention to get back in gear. As for czars, they usually make headlines, and not policy, so how do they really help?

"If the Congress and auto industry strike a ‘grand bargain' aimed at improving the industry's efficiency and innovative capacity, America's public and private sectors will have to work together on a variety of fronts. The complexity inherent in reforming firms with extensive and interconnected labor, legal, and financial agreements will most certainly be daunting," Conyers contends.

Conyers says that Gettelfinger will make a great pick because he has "an uncanny understanding of the technical operation of the auto industry, as well as the leadership skills needed to bring competing interests together." I'm not sure about the first part, but he certainly has brought people together on a plan to ruin the competitiveness of the automakers in Detroit.

Economist Mark Perry has shown that UAW employees cost the Big 3 about 66 percent more than the non-unionized workers of foreign transplant auto companies in the U.S. Putting the head of the UAW in charge of the auto industry would probably ensure that that gap grows, rather than contracts. It would also make it nearly impossible for the Obama administration to pull the plug on the Big 3, even if it became apparent that the firms could not compete for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, it would make the UAW conspicuously accountable for the mess that Detroit has become. With that in mind, it's an idea Congressional Republicans should strongly endorse.