By on June 18, 2010

Ron Gettelfinger retired and Bob King took his place as President of the UAW. Mr King has some pretty big shoes to fill, but the name is a good start. After all, Mr Gettelfinger helped persuade President Obama to bail our GM and Chrysler (can’t say I blame him, quid pro quo, and all that). So what can Mr King do to really show the rank and file that he means business? Better working conditions? Input into designing cars? More job security? Nope. His next step is to make sure that Detroit and the transplants are evenly matched, so to speak.

Business Week reports that Bob King has made organizing the U.S factory workers of Toyota his “Number 1 priority”.

“If we don’t support Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia and all the non-union plants by supporting the right to organize, we cannot win back the concessions we have given up,” King said in his first address today to delegates at the UAW’s constitutional convention in Detroit. “The only way we can get back what we’ve sacrificed is by coming up with a comprehensive strategy to rebuild the power of the UAW.”

While he was at it, Mr King took a verbal swing at Toyota’s current scion, Akio Toyoda, by talking lambasting Toyoda’s decision to push forward with a non-union plant in Mississippi whilst at the same time shutting down NUMMI. “The only reason they closed that plant is because it was a UAW plant,” King said. “Mr. Toyoda, if you care about safety and quality in America, you’ll go back to Fremont and build Corollas there and not in Mississippi.” UAW’s King missed the part about GM dumping NUMMI on Toyota via the bankruptcy Mr King’s predecessor helped usher in. He may have missed that Mississippi is as of now a part of America. But let’s not sweat the details.

More virtual violence followed: “We’re going to pound on Toyota until they recognize the First-Amendment rights of workers to come into the UAW,” King told over 1,000 union delegates.

If the UAW, almost certainly with President Obama’s good wishes, press forward with their plans to “liberate” the good people of the oppressive regimes of Toyota, and by inclusion, Nissan, Honda et al, then something has to give. As mentioned before, Le Chatelier’s principle tells us that if an equilibrium is shifted, then the whole equilibrium will shift with it to maintain stability. The transplants like things the way they are, if the UAW want to change this equilibrium, then the transplants may have to shift to achieve stability. And I’m guessing the acronym “NAFTA” might help them do that.

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38 Comments on “UAW: It’s Good To Be The King – Maybe Not For Toyota...”


  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    Any other Union would be better than the corrupt UAW/CAW if a Union is wanted by the Toyota workers, as I have stated before,most Unions do good for the People who wanted them in the first place, but the UAW and CAW are Unions from the Pass and are stuck in there own rut! I know first hand what a good Union can accomplish and what a Bad Union can do as well, Time will tell eh?

  • avatar
    mtr2car1

    The odd thing is….this is actually a well organized idea on their part.

    Not saying that i agree or think it will work but for them it’s actually smells like something of a strategy. Who da thunk?

  • avatar
    geeber

    The workers at Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai (and BMW and Mercedes) plants in the United States have always had the right to organize and join the UAW.

    They just haven’t wanted to do so. And why should they? Their wages are about the same as those of UAW workers. Join the union, and they would most likely have the pleasure of seeing their take-home wages REDUCED, thanks to the automatic deduction of union dues.

    As I said on another thread, the UAW’s problem is that it is about as relevant to the auto industry as the 1936 Chevrolet is to 2010 car buyers.

    For starters, its leadership needs to stop beliveing that it is battling the aloof, patrician Alfred P. Sloan or the thuggish Harry Bennett as it tries to organize the transplants. The transplants have revolultionized the way cars are built in this country, and a big part of the revolution is the responsibilities and expectations placed upon assembly line workers.

    The days of workers mindlessly tightening bolts or mounting fenders in dirty, noisy, unsafe factories, and being discouraged from using their brains or initiative, are dead and buried. The UAW model works for that kind of environment. The transplants (and, increasingly, the domestics), don’t work that way anymore.

    But I get the impression that the UAW leadership thinks that it is still 1935.

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      Part of the reason that unions have been unsuccessful in organizing the transplants ( Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, BMW and Mercedes) is that the worst, physically hardest jobs in those plants go to “perma-temps” – so called temporary employees, in for long term assignments, but actually employed by outside contractors at half the pay of regular “associates”. As such, they aren’t employees of the transplant owned auto plant, but actual contractors, and are ineligible to vote on joining a union.

      Secondly, don’t fool yourself. The assembly jobs in a Toyota or Honda plant are not that different from a GM or Ford plant. What’s different is that the Toyota, Honda, et all plants will rotate workers around various jobs a couple of times a day, and the aforementioned crappy, physically harder and most repetitious jobs at a transplants assembly plants go to contract employee (“perma-temps”).

      Otherwise, the insides of newer Detroit 3 assembly plants, such as Ford’s Dearborn Truck plant, or GM’s Delta Township Assembly and Grand River Assembly plants in Lansing, MI, are the same inside as any Toyota or Honda plant. Everyone works at the same level (no more standing in pits looking up at the underside of the car), etc.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Len_A, the idea of rotating workers through various jobs is a radical change. And it is my understanding that the idea spread from the transplants to the domestics. This would not have happened without the presence of the transplants in the U.S.

      The simple fact is that, without the pressure provided by the transplants, both management and the union had absolutely no incentive to change the status quo. And the status quo produced some pretty crappy cars. Granted, union workers didn’t design the Aztek or the transmission used in the original Taurus, but some of the workmanship put out by the Big Three was absolutely awful. I’ve seen all-original, low mileage cars at the various Carlisle events and the big Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Hershey fall show, and today people would refuse delivery of those cars.

      I forgot about the use of temporary workers by the Japanese. That does make it harder for the union to organize the transplants. But I would still argue that, at this point, there is no real incentive for the remainder of the workers to join a union, and certainly not the model provided by the UAW.

      What everyone – union boosters and union bashers alike – seem to forget is that the real world (i.e., outside of automotive message boards), most people could not care less about the union one way or another. I have NEVER heard one person say that he or she bought a car based on whether it was union made. (Granted, I live in Harrisburg, Pa., so there are no auto plants in the area.)

      What Joe and Jane Carbuyer do understand is that the Japanese brought production techniques that improved the product in ways that the average person can see and feel. One only had to park a brand-new 1988 Civic beside a 1988 Cavalier to see the difference. (And that doesn’t even get into the greater refinement offered by the Civic, or the likelihood of greater reliability.)

      They also understand that both management and the union fought the adoption of these techniques as long as they could, because they upset the status quo.

      Most people don’t give two hoots about the union one way or another, except for this vague, lingering feeling that it has joined management in delaying change as much as possible. The UAW needs to understand and accept this if it wants to be relevant in the 21st century. Today’s car buyers weren’t even born during the Flint sitdown strike of 1936, and, like it or not, they really don’t care. And they certainly aren’t going to buy a Cruze or a Focus instead of a Civic or a Corolla because of what happened in 1936. Nor, for that matter, are they going to buy the domestic alternative so that UAW members can retire after 30 years or have a minimal co-payment for their Viagra prescriptions.

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      geeber, I can’t disagree with your post. That was not my point, only pointing out a few things that you missed.

      In my assessment, the temp workers are used as cannon fodder, and the “associates”, for the most part, know this. So in my view, the use of perma-temps does act as an impediment to organizing a plant.

      As nominally prounion as I am (actually I’m pro working person of any type), the one thing I want my UAW relatives to get through their heads is that times have changed, and something SHOULDN’T come back, like cost-of-living-allowance(COLA). A great idea in theory for the employees, it’s impossible to tolerate a system of escalating variable labor costs when your competition doesn’t have the same.

      In theory, Bob King is correct in saying that if the transplants are organized, it would put everyone on equal footing. That said, there’s another impediment to organizing any transplant manufacturing plant – each one is incorporated as a separate subsidiary business, making it problematic at best for the UAW or any other union to organize one plant and then have the rest fall in line. Legally, it makes it nearly impossible, even if they were to organize all of them, to negotiate a national master contract. They, the union, would face a multi year court battle to just answer, yea or nay, whether they could do a national master contract.

      Frankly, most of his comments are just rhetoric for the ears of the union rank and file, and not outsiders like us. Don’t put too much stock in what he says. UAW’s growth in adding members has been, and will continue to be, from outside of manufacturing.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Disingenuous moron! They HAVE the right to organize. They CHOOSE not to.

    I will never buy another UAW car. Put that in your dope pipe and smoke it, Mr. King.

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      They don’t organize because a third of the employees at a Toyota or Honda plant, the ones assigned the crappiest jobs and would be the most motivated to organize, are employed as outside contractors at half the pay of regular “associates” and are are ineligible to vote on joining a union as part of the remaining assembly employees. Learn something about U.S. labor law before you post garbage. Put that in YOUR dope pipe and smoke it.

  • avatar
    mikey

    ” And why should they” ? Valid point geeber. And as long as the transplants maintain the status quo they will fend off the UAW/CAW.

    With the UAW plants very close in total compensation,the temptation will always be there,for the transplants to under cut wages and benifits. They may even try and shove it down thier throats. To do so is an invitation to Mr King.

    @ Contrarian…Germany,Japan and Korea all have very strong and sometimes militant unions. If you feel that strongly, you might want to go through all of the parts in your non UAW car and get rid of all the CAW/UAW components.

    Good luck starting and driving your car.

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      You’re being kind. European unions are sometimes militant like a bear sometimes sh*ts in the woods. My family is from Europe. American, and even Canadian unions are wusses compared to their European counterparts. When was the last time North America saw a general strike by all unions at the same time? I can’t remember, in history, that ever happening here. European unions seem to do it at least twice, sometimes three times, a decade.

      And the Chinese unions struck Honda and a key Toyota supplier in the past ten to fourteen days.

      And you’re 100% right. Good luck to these guys getting rid of UAW parts in their Non UAW cars. Delphi is Toyota’s biggest engine management electronics supplier and those parts are 100% union. American Axle is UAW, as is Metaldyne, and they supply suspension and drive train components to every single vehicle manufacturer in North America, car, light truck, over-the-road diesels, buses and construction equipment.

      Union bashers need to either learn more about the industry before they open their mouthes (and prove Mark Twain right), or shut up and sit down.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      “When was the last time North America saw a general strike by all unions at the same time? I can’t remember, in history, that ever happening here. European unions seem to do it at least twice, sometimes three times, a decade.”

      LenA, You’re absolutely right. Any wonder then, why European countries are essentially all headed for bankruptcy? When you tell groups of people that they are ENTITLED to 6 weeks vacation, lifelong health coverage, etc. they are grateful for a while and then want more.

      Unions are greedy…. that’s their nature, and it’s not limited to the UAW/CAW nor is it limited to just auto mfg. It’s the employer’s job (or that of the city/county/state/fed) to say no. I don’t know of one union that isn’t currently choking the air out of it’s host.

      Unions once provided an invaluable service in the US for worker safety and child and general labor laws, but their time has come and gone. This is not our grandfather’s union.

      There is no use for a grocery worker union other than to enrich those that work at Von’s. Teacher’s unions have proven they care more for protecting teachers that have inappropriate contact with students than expanding pay for performance initiatives or, as so many teachers say, improved the quality of education.

      Unions are a shell of what they once were.

      Unions of today appear to have as their singular goal to maximize pay and benefits until the host is forced to file for bankruptcy.

  • avatar
    50merc

    We all cherish the First Amendment, but Mr. King, it has nothing to do with joining a union or engaging in collective bargaining.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    “Mr. Toyoda, if you care about safety and quality in America, you’ll go back to Fremont and build Corollas there and not in Mississippi.”

    The UAW chief lecturing the world’s leading car company about quality and safety and disparaging a Southern US state in the process…that’s chutzpah.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Not to mention, being in the manufacturing business in California is about as attractive as doing it in New York, and that ain’t much.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    “After all, Mr Gettelfinger helped persuade President Obama to bail our GM and Chrysler (can’t say I blame him, quid pro quo, and all that).”

    Quid pro quo? Like big labor has anywhere else to go but support the Democrats? Not very sophisticated political analysis here.

  • avatar
    Tommy Boy

    What King is trying to do is the old union mantra of “taking wages out of competition” by unionizing all players in a targeted industry, and “pattern bargaining,” on the theory that then the individual companies will be less resistant to union demands since they won’t be put at a competitive disadvantage.

    In other words, turning back the clock to the heyday of the “Big Three” by bringing the transplants into the UAW spiderweb.

    The problem is, that even if successful (as it was for the UAW circa 1945-1970), it won’t work for long. For one thing, we’re no longer in that post-WWII sweet spot of economic hegemony and lack of competition.

    Second, there are the Chinese on the horizon, who will do to a UAW-burdened Toyota, Honda et als. what Toyota / Honda did to the formerly “Big Three.”

    Thirdly, both management and labor in the auto industry (and elsewhere) now have the benefit of looking at the UAW’s history to see that it is poison for both.

    Finally, the UAW’s attempt to go back to the status quo ante demonstrates the expensive frivolity that Bush / Obama imposed upon the taxpayers in bailing out the UAW via the bailouts of GM and Chrysler. The “creative destruction” of free market economics should have been allowed to pursue its magic (so too with the banks) — as a country we’d be much better off without the crony capitalism that has infected our system.

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      And you put too much stock in what a freshly elected union president has to say. He’s playing to his constituency, like any politician. Pretty much all rhetoric. If you look at the last ten years, the UAW leadership says one thing publicly, to appease the membership, and then negotiates something different. If you read on some of their history, you find comments referencing union negotiators complaining on what they could or could not “sell the membership” on a particular contract.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Only one comment. Toyota didn’t leave NUMMI because GM left it first. Toyota’s production was something like 85% of the output of NUMMI. GM not being there wasn’t that much of a factor, but it is an easy excuse.

    I am not saying the UAW being in this plant was the sole reason, but it was definitely one of them. GM leaving would seem pretty minor since it was such little production from the plant.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Len-A is 100% correct. First and foremost Mr King is a politician. And like all politicians,of all political stripes,its “tell e’m what they want to hear”.

    Mr King will have enough on his plate when the ramification’s of “two tier wages” come to bite him on the butt. A savy old dog like Gettlefinger knew when to bail.

    • 0 avatar
      Tommy Boy

      I agree that there’s a politician element involved, with King and all other union bosses. Quite a bit of politician-like demagoguery as well — after all, the union business model (and the union boss’ very existence) is premised on Marxism, class-warfare and so to do so there must be “bad guy” (management / capitalism) and a “savior” but for whom you’ll be victimized (union).

      All that said, from what I’ve read of King he’s a Marxist=Progressive true-believer, a :Leftist radical, similar to Andy Stern (until recently) of SEIU. His use of the Marxist-Progressive code-phrase “social justice” in his speech would seem to confirm this.

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      Tommy Boy, he’s a true believer in public view, he’s a pragmatist at the negotiating table. Not only did he negotiate the two-tiered wage structure, but at Ford, he negotiated the outsourcing of non production jobs, as part of local plant level Competitive Operating Agreements (COA’s) in 2006, a full year before the 2007 national agreement that started the two tiered wage structure.

      Now, at Ford, shipping & receiving, material handling (including overhead crane operations & forklift repair), most janitorial, building grounds maintenance, and parts and non-production (repair parts) crib operations are all outsourced. Negotiated with Bob King at the helm of the Ford department of the UAW.

      That’s why I said you can’t put much stock in his public statements to the UAW membership.

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      mikey, the real fallout of the two tiered wage structure, the way I read the landscape, will be in 2015, the earliest the union can strike at GM & Chrysler, per their bailout agreements with the federal government (no stike in 2011 possible, on wage issues). By then, so many senority employees will have retired, that the voting demographic may tip against the senority employees that ratified the two tier structure. And King will be out by then – he’s 63 years old, so he can only serve one four year term, and then mandatory retirement, per union rules.

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      Bob King just told WWJ Radio in Detroit that he knows that it’s not possible that they, the UAW, get back the pay & benefits they gave up. http://www.wwj.com/New-UAW-Prez–We-Want-To-Help-With-Big-3-Recovery/7498990

      “‘It’s not possible to get everything back that we’ve given up, because we’re not going to put ourselves in a position where the vehicles we make are not competitive,’ King said.”

  • avatar
    Lokki

    One small point of order regarding “Perma-temps” used by Japanese companies in the U.S. My experience isn’t with the auto industry, but in electronics, but I believe the practice to be the same.

    That is: The “Perma-temps” are used as a screening process by the Japanese companies. Almost all of the ‘real’ employees are hired from the pool of “Perma-temps”. The temp employees are in boot-camp status.

    A worker will be hired through a temp service and watched for a couple of years. In the company I observed, they even wore special ‘temp worker’ outfits so they could be easily identifed as such. If the individual is a good fit for the company in work habits and attitude, they’re offered permanent employment with the parent company. In some cases, a work area is asked if they want a temp to join them as a permanent. Most workers never get that far. If someone is a poor fit, then the temp service is asked to replace them early-on with another candidate. So the ‘perma-temp title is a bit misleading. Only a mediocre worker will stay in temp status for a long time… until he permanently improves or screw up.

    Having an easy method to weed out the mis-fits makes for a much better working environment for everyone.

    It’s a smart system.

  • avatar
    silverkris

    Well, even if Toyota isn’t unionized, the presence of the UAW does benefit their workers wage levels, which are pretty close to UAW rates – if they weren’t, it would give the UAW a foothold to organize.

  • avatar
    mrcrispy

    UAW is the worst thing that could happen to a car company, please stay far far away from the imports who still produce quality cars.

  • avatar
    newcarscostalot

    Oops! I meant mrcrispy. I was thinking that Z71_silvy would be of the opposite opinion. If I understood mrcrispy’s comment correctly in the first place. Just a funny thought I had. Well, funny to me, at any rate…

  • avatar
    cmcmail

    Isn’t there a massive conflict of interest when the part owner of 2 Companies vows to organize the labor at his competitors?

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      First, technically the UAW does not own part of GM & Chrysler. The health care trust. The Voluntary Employee Benefit Trust (VEBA) does, the the VEBA’s management is fire-walled separate from the union administration itself, including the use of outside directors and investment advisers.

      Secondly, there is no legal conflict of interest. There is really nothing to stop them from trying to organize any competing business. Trying to organize doesn’t mean they will have success.

      Third, The UAW VEBA’s have promised to sell off their ownership the first chance they get. Right now they have no way to do it before the companies IPO’s. Proof that they’re serious is that that they already sold off their shares in Ford, over a month ago.

  • avatar
    cmcmail

    Would you want a team of workers whose retirement income is dependent on not your success, but that of your competition, operating your machinery and building your product? Who would be getting the short straw when it came to “strike time” or “union action”


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