DETROIT – Every day at a General Motors plant near Lansing, Mich., workers drive hundreds of Buick Enclaves — many with leather seats for seven and on-board video systems — off the assembly line.

Driving one home would be tough for the plant’s newest workers, whose annual pay is less than the $35,000 it costs to buy even the cheapest Enclave. Newly hired members of the United Auto Workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler earn about $14 per hour, half what veterans make under their current contract.

It’s a far cry from the days when the union autoworker had one of the sweetest deals in American labor.

For decades, the UAW tugged wages upward. In 1960, a UAW member made 16 percent more than the average American manufacturing worker. 2006, the figure was 74 percent. Today, new hires in the UAW make about 20 percent less than the average.

In the old days, other industries adopted UAW benefits to compete for workers. The Federal Reserve even kept a close tab on UAW contracts because they were such a strong predictor of U.S. wages.

That was before high gas prices, the recession and skyrocketing health care costs brought the Detroit Three to their knees. Last year, as GM and Chrysler tumbled into bankruptcy, workers agreed to concessions.

Demands for cuts are still coming. Workers at Nexteer Automotive, a steering plant in Saginaw, Mich., were asked to freeze wages for five years, lower the entry-level wage to $12 per hour and remove family members from new workers’ health-care plans. Workers voted down the concessions Thursday.