Magna International a Canadian auto parts company and its founder Frank Stronach came in to CNY, bought up the last of our big industrial employers, the New Process Gear auto parts plant, and proceeded to run the 121 year-old company into the ground. Magna asked for continual wage and benefit cuts, and put no significant investment in a plant that was caught making parts for behemoth SUV’s that no one was buying anymore.
The union–in the middle of a financial meltdown–voted overwhelmingly on three separate occasions to reject contract offers. They knew the plant would close, they believed it would close whatever they did, so it was better to accept unemployment while they were still making $20/hour and retraining assistance rather than wait until wages were lower and retraining money wasn’t available.
Why revisit this issue now? Today, a Canadian court approved a $1 Billion payout to Magna International founder Frank Stronach.
It was the Ford Motor Company that originally realized that workers receiving a decent wage were better customers. It was General Motors, once the world’s largest employer, whose pay and benefits negotiated with a strong UAW, lifted millions into what we used to consider an American invention–a large and satisfied middle class.
In Central NY, at the beginning of the 21st century, the auto industry is just the latest industry to pack its bags and leave–headed to the sweatshop labor and no benefits zones of Asia and other emerging nations. If you’re a lawyer or a software engineer, there are loads of jobs for you in Syracuse. Those trapped without the education and skills for these specialized trades better learn to empty bed pans and be able to say “would you like fries with that order?”
The social stratification of job opportunities in our community and our nation have taken a toll on the middle class. The middle class isn’t so large anymore and there are many slipping off the deck into the cold waters of poverty as the S.S. Opportunity sets sail–away from CNY’s ravaged shores.