January 6, 2013

by George Windau

While “CBS 60 Minutes” suggests that Sergio Merchionne of FIAT was some kind of genius for saving Chrysler in the USA, in Italy workers consider Marchonne a “union buster.” I say this based upon an interview with Adriano Alessandria, a member of the Federation of Italian Metal and Office Workers (FIOM). I conducted the interview with the help of Stella Pavnosetti, in interpreter, on May 20, 2012 while I was at an autoworkers conference in Munich, Germany.
Last Year Marchionne unilaterally revoked a Bargaining Agreement with all three unions at FIAT in Italy. FIOM, Adriano’s union, represented the majority of the workers. Marchionne said he had a “production plan” to double output and ramp up profits, but he needed Italian workers to agree to concessions, some of which included:
  • Alternate Work Schedule, paying straight time for production on Saturdays and Sundays
  • Workers on call two hours before their regular shift and be available two hours afterward whenever management dictates
  • Sick pay sharply reduced
  • Restrictions placed upon when union reps can conduct union business.

Clearly the plan was an ultimatum. Marchionne then proceeded to have the company carry out and count the vote.
FIOM said “NO,” and demanded the pay raises that had been negotiated in the revoked contract. But while FIOM conducted a short strike, the other two unions, FIM and ULIM, caved in. FIOM said the vote was invalid since it was not a contract vote conducted by the union and urged workers to vote “NO.”
A massive media campaign was conducted, with all Italian political leaders appearing on TV, urging FIAT workers to vote “YES” on the production plan. Even the Roman Catholic Church urged workers to vote “YES.” In one area, parish priests warned that FIAT workers voting “NO” would be responsible for allowing an economic crisis that would allow the Mafia to regain control of southern Italy.
Marchionne’s plan received a 60% YES vote, but because FIOM openly opposed the plan, FIOM-represented workers were not allowed back in the plants. In order to return to work they were forced to drop their FIOM membership.
At a news conference, a reporter asked Marchionne if he considered himself to be a “union buster.” He replied “no,” there were still unions at FIAT—some of his workers simply and voluntarily changed their affiliation. That’s a lie that Italian workers can see through. Too bad “CBS 60 Minutes” failed to mention this fact to U.S. viewers.
Despite the odds they face, FIOM continues to organize within the FIAT plants.

George Windau

Local 12

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