News that Chrysler reinstated more than a dozen workers who'd been caught by a local Detroit TV station drinking and smoking pot on their lunch break has lit up the Internet, prompting the automaker to issue two separate statements.
Chrysler fired the workers in September 2010 after Detroit Fox 2 filmed the men buying alcohol and then drinking and smoking in a public park. The TV station even caught them tossing empty cans into the grass before heading back to work.
The United Auto Workers union filed a grievance on behalf of the fired employees, and a third-party arbitrator sided with the union. They started back at Chrysler's Jefferson North plant in Detroit this week.
"I want you to know that Chrysler Group does not condone, in any way, this type of misconduct, but we're in the tough spot of having to accept the arbitrator's decision, just as the Union must when the ruling is in the favor of the company," wrote Scott Garberding, Chrysler's senior vice president of manufacturing, in the second statement.
The news broke Monday, while all eyes are on Michigan to see if the state will pass a controversial anti-union bill, called right-to-work. President Obama flew into Michigan Monday to put pressure on the state to vote against the bill, which weakens unions by draining funding from their coffers. Non-union employees can work side-by-side with union employees and yet not pay union dues (but still reap the benefits of union negotiations.)
The bill was pushed in a lame-duck session in a Republican-controlled state government. The issue will be voted on later today.
News of the rehirings is a black eye for both Chrysler and the unions. For Chrysler, it raises questions about what kind of people are building its cars -- even though the vast majority of Chrysler employees were not involved in the incident. And for the United Auto Workers, it raises questions about why they are defending workers who, in the public's eye, shouldn't get their jobs back.
"Unions often do tend to go too far to defend those who shouldn't necessarily be defended," said Phil Dines, author of "State of the Unions" in an interview on Fox Business News. But he defended the arbitration process: "We might not like the outcome in any trial or grievance process, but neither you or I saw the evidence."