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Economy, Past Hampers UAW Efforts to Organize Foreign Carmakers' US Plants

By Joel Arellano | December 30, 2011
Most Americans look to the upcoming new year with revelry, cautious optimism, or trepidation (especially if you believe in those pesky Mayan predictions and subsequent bad movie). One group, the United Auto Workers, though, sees 2012 as a year of survival. The UAW is in a tough situation. One of the most powerful unions in the U.S., the UAW has seen membership, reputation, and political influence plummet in the past thirty years. Currently UAW president Bob King is trying to persuade German automakers Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen to allow it present its case to workers in the automakers' U.S. plants. According to Reuters and Automotive News, King believes those workers will be willing to join the UAW once they've heard its arguments. Uh, huh. And Congress is one, big, happy family with the public's best interest in mind. To say the UAW faces an uphill battle is a gross understatement. First off, most foreign automakers with manufacturing facilities in the U.S., called “transplants,” are located in the Southern states, whose populaces are historically hostile to unions. That's one of the reasons cited for the UAW's failure to persuade workers at Japanese auto plants like Honda or Korea's Hyundai in joining. The second reason is economics, especially at a personal level. Transplant workers have enjoyed growth or at least stability with strong car sales under automakers like Hyundai, Kia, and even Toyota. On the other hand, they've watched the UAW and the domestic automakers' clashes and the subsequent layoffs and plant closures. Automotive News writes that, from 2001 to now, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler eliminated more than 200,000 jobs while transplants have created nearly 20,000 positions in the same period of time. Yet foreign automakers are prepared to bolt the U.S. if necessary: In 2001, when workers at Nissan's manufacturing plant in Smyrma, Tenn., were preparing to vote to unionize a few years ago, they were shown a video by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn who said such a union would make the Smyrma plant “not competitive” and the automaker was considering Mexico for its plant as well. The result? The union proposal was voted down two to one. King's awareness of the above factors may explain his current actions, which analysts consider passive, especially compared to his predecessors. He has not named, for example, which German automaker as the “target” to unionize this year in fears it would impact other negotiations with their leadership. And he has been working closely with German union IG Metall, which has its own reasons to back the UAW's efforts. King has more than once stated that the UAW's future and very survival hinges on transplant workers unionizing. "I have said that repeatedly,” King has said. “And I believe it." Automotive.com's take: Right now, there are no immediate effects if German automaker workers ever unionize. One long-term effect, though, comes from anti-union forces, which point out non-union automakers have been able to keep their vehicle prices historically lower than unionized plants. What do you think of the UAW's efforts? Do you support them? Or don't? Let us know in the comments below. Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)
  • Uaw President Bob King
 
2 comments
Hank
Hank

Ralph: They weren't "threatened". They were told the truth something UAW represented workers don't like hearing, even from their own union leadership. Usually when they do, it's too late. Manufacturers aren't adverse to pay competitive wages and benefits; but they aren't going to be used to as a platform or leverage by a union that has as deplorable a track-record of preserving jobs as the UAW. They just don't get it!

Ralph Lyke
Ralph Lyke

"Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn who said such a union would make the Smyrma plant “not competitive” and the automaker was considering Mexico for its plant as well. The result? The union proposal was voted down two to one." The above statement by CEO Ghosn is known as a "veiled threat." These workers voted against their self-interests out of fear because of this "job blackmail." -Ralph Lyke Upstate New York

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