UAW Shifts Organizing Strategy.
But King, who has made organizing a foreign, or transplant, automaker a key objective of his presidency, insists that the UAW is shifting rather than slowing its organizing strategy.
“Before, we said we are going to pick the target,” King said in an interview. “Just in reflection … that sounded too adversarial.”
King has said the UAW needs to organize workers at Asian and German automakers with U.S. plants in order to grow. In recent decades, the union has lost leverage in contract talks with the Detroit Three because the foreign automakers employ workers at lower wages and less costly benefits.
“It’s a setback,” said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “It sounds like he’s backing out of what is vitally necessary for the UAW to do.”
The UAW shrank from 1.5 million members in 1979 to fewer than 400,000 members in 2009, but grew modestly in the last two years as it organized casino workers and the Detroit Three began hiring.
Now, King and UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams said they have held discussions with management at several companies about ways to hold fair elections in which workers can vote for or against union representation.
King, who was elected to a four-year term in 2010, remains optimistic the UAW will organize at least one transplant during his tenure.
“We have made a lot of progress, so I am very confident that we will be successful in organizing a number of them,” King said.
UAW still ready to act despite strategy shift
UAW President Bob King said that the union’s decision to back off a goal to organize at least one foreign automaker this year was prompted by rumors that Nissan would be the target of a global organizing campaign.
Though the UAW has spoken with Nissan workers and community groups near Nissan’s plants in Tennessee and Mississippi, King said rumors that Nissan would be named as an organizing target are untrue.
“We are shifting our strategy a little bit. We are not going to pick or announce a target at all,” King said in an interview.
The UAW has previously tried and failed to organize Nissan and Honda workers.
“Over the last 28 years, Nissan’s U.S. manufacturing operations have built a hard-earned reputation for job growth, quality, efficiency, paying competitive wages and benefits and fostering a positive work environment,” Nissan spokesman David Reuter said in an e-mail.
King has said several times that the UAW wanted to organize a German, Korean or Japanese automaker with a U.S. plant this year. But the union’s heavy schedule of contract negotiations with the Detroit Three, Caterpillar, the State of Michigan and various casinos slowed its organizing efforts.
The union made its decision to pursue a more cooperative approach with a variety of companies during a board meeting Wednesday. “We are going to continue our discussions with workers and at the point that we think there is majority support, we will move forward with an election process,” King said. “We are not going to create a fight.”
The UAW’s decision doesn’t surprise Art Schwartz, former General Motors labor negotiator and president of Labor and Economics Associates.
In general, autoworkers are less receptive to unions in Southern states, many of which have right-to-work laws allowing workers to opt out of unions where they exist. They also often already earn wages and receive benefits that exceed the average in their communities.
“He’s got a very difficult task,” Schwartz said. “He should figure out where he can organize — not just look at one company.”
King also plans to use the union’s recent contract talks with the Detroit Three as evidence that the UAW can help to preserve and create jobs.
GM agreed this year to reopen an idled plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.Ford will produce some of its Ford Fusions in Flat Rock instead of expanding a plant in Mexico.
The UAW’s new agreements with GM, Ford and Chrysler are expected to create 20,000 jobs in the U.S. over the life of the four-year contracts.
“In all of these negotiations, we’ve worked with employers to get the best contracts for our membership and also to put the employers in the best position to be successful,” King said.
Analysts say that Volkswagen and Hyundai are the most likely UAW targets.
Volkswagen’s new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., is the only one of its 62 global plants that isn’t unionized. The UAW also has enlisted the help of German unions to pressure Volkswagen to allow a UAW election.
“It’s a very new facility. We are there, and we’ve talked to workers,” King said. “That’s in a positive sphere.”
Hyundai has been less receptive to the UAW than Volkswagen, King said.
“They don’t have the same positive corporate culture that Volkswagen has,” King said of Hyundai.
The UAW sent organizers to Alabama in January to talk to Hyundai workers. Last week, the UAW protested at 86 Hyundai dealerships in support of a woman in Korea who said she was sexually harassed while working for a Hyundai supplier. Source: Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press.