With fat contracts with Detroit’s Big 3 in its back pocket, the United Auto Workers union can now turn its attention to trying to organize foreign automakers’ plants in the U.S. The union considers the effort critical to its future.
But where to start? The Associated Press is reporting that the choice of the next target is up in the air, but that Nissan is a likely target.
Union leaders have discussed Nissan as a target for organizing, according to a person briefed on union meetings. “It was crystal clear” that Nissan would be targeted, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the meetings are private, the AP is reporting.
Nissan has two assembly plants in the U.S., in Canton, Miss., and Smyrna, Tenn. Nissan has 8,000 employee alone in Tennessee, where it has its North American headquarters.
Though it has struck out in organizing workers at foreign plants in the U.S. in the past, the UAW is taking a new tack this time.
The union is trying to come across as less confrontational. King said the union’s recent contracts with the Detroit Three automakers should show foreign companies and their workers that the UAW is a good business partner, the AP says. Earlier this year the UAW agreed to new four-year deals that have no pay raises for most workers but mandate profit-sharing. The deals also bring thousands of additional jobs to UAW-represented factories.
“If we don’t organize these transnationals, I don’t think there’s a long-term future for the UAW, I really don’t,” King said in a speech at the union’s legislative conference in January. At the time, he expected to pick a target within three months.
The UAW’s membership has fallen to just over 376,000 members, about one quarter of what it was at the peak in 1979. Membership rose 6% last year, the first increase since 2004. Source: USA Today.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has been anxiously watching The UNI Global Union which is pushing Wal-Mart, and Target to unionize in dozens of countries with some success is stepping up their activity north of the border. While some are preoccupied with the AFL=CIO’s involvement and support of OWS, don’t be distracted as they are clearly supportive of the UFCW’s activities.
Target Corp. is locked in a fight to prevent Zellers employees from maintaining their union status, as the discount giant pushes to keep its costs down for its foray into the competitive Canadian retail field.
Target’s blueprint for Canada entails converting about 135 Zellers stores to the Target name by 2013 after letting go all the Zellers employees and starting fresh with newly hired staff – and no union. Currently about 15 of the Zellers stores are unionized.
But now, in a test case, the union has applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board to declare Target as the “successor employer” to Zellers at an outlet in Burnaby, B.C., and keep the employees unionized.
“It could be quite a battle,” said Richard Chaykowski, a professor at Queen’s University’s School of Policy Studies in Kingston. “Any decision a government board makes would potentially be only Round 1.”
Target and its discount archrival, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have fought the United Food and Commercial Workers for years as the union attempts to organize the retailers’ employees and improve their pay and working conditions. So far, the retailers have managed to keep unions out in North America, although for brief periods the unions have succeeded in organizing some employees.
At stake is Target’s low-cost operating model, which relies on competitive compensation and flexibility in scheduling shifts and assigning tasks. A move to unionize workers could hurt that model. Target is taking on the even bigger Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, which has generally been successful in its opposition to unions.
However, in Canada Target is now facing a well-entrenched principle in labour laws that calls for a successor company in a takeover to hold on to a union if the firm is operating in the same area.
“The whole purpose of successor rights protections are to prevent this sort of thing from happening,” said Steven Barrett, a lawyer with employee law specialist Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP.
Lisa Gibson, a spokeswoman for Target, said the firm believes its $1.8-billion acquisition of Zellers leases “is a real estate transaction and not the acquisition of a business, technology or employees. As such, we do not believe Target is a successor employer under applicable law and do not believe that there was reasonable cause to file a successorship application.”
Target will contest the union’s B.C. application, she said. It’s not clear how many Zellers locations could be affected by the dispute.
Starting next year, Target plans to close its Zellers stores for six to nine months for major renovations, and re-launch them – beginning in March of 2013 – as Target outlets.
Mr. Barrett said provincial successor rights provisions are designed to protect unionized employees in the case of a temporary shutdown because of an ownership change if the switch is in virtually the same area of operations. Other provinces also recognize the “fundamental” protection of successors rights, he said. “You can’t let those rights disappear simply because the business gets sold.”
Ivan Limpright, president of Local 1518 of the UFCW, which applied to the B.C. labour board earlier this month, said the union aims to ensure that Target honours its legal obligations and continues to employ its 120 Zellers members at Brentwood Mall in Burnaby. The successor dispute was touched off when the union recently sent Target a letter indicating its intention to negotiate a renewal of its existing contract, union spokesman Andy Neufeld said. “That’s when Target challenged our successorship.”
Prof. Chaykowski said unions have faced an uphill battle in organizing retail workers, partly because they are highly transient and because the sector is so competitive, with razor-thin profit margins. Target feels tremendous pressure to remain union-free to help keep costs down, he said.
In June, a Target store in New York voted against joining the largest retail union in the U.S. Labour organizers had hoped a vote to join the union would encourage other retail workers to follow suit.
While Wal-Mart has agreed to work with labour unions in some parts of the world, it has fiercely opposed unionization in North America. When workers in Jonquiere, Que., voted to unionize in 2005, Wal-Mart shut down the store. After butchers at a Jacksonville, Tex., Wal-Mart voted to unionize in 2000, Wal-Mart dropped all U.S. meat-cutting departments.
The Brooklyn, New York NLRB has more evidence that Target intimidated workers by threatening to close a unit if the union was voted in during a campaign, and election this past summer. The additional charges may provide enough evidence for a judge to recommend the election results be overturned.
Target won the June election 137-85, but the union has filed objections with the NLRB for intimidation and wrongful termination of a union supporter, according to the NLRB. The Board has already filed one complaint and a second complaint documenting the agency’s findings may be filed next week. If the judge agrees with the Board, it could lead to the throwing out of the results and a new election.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1500 recently withdrew an objection related to the firing of internal Target union organizer Tashawna Green; however they planned to refile the complaint. Subsequent to the election, UFCW Local 1500 President Bruce Both complained that workers had been subject to a “campaign of threats, intimidation and illegal acts by Target management.”
The union targeted a campaign at over two dozen Target stores in early 2010 and with this recent round of activity, the UFCW is sure to continue to pursue organizing at Target stores.