At the beginning of this year, the United Auto Workers pledged that it would launch a campaign to organize the foreign-owned, non-union “transplant” factories in the US, threatening to tar uncooperative automakers as “human right abusers.” The campaign initially lost steam, but the UAW stuck to its pledge, re-iterating on several occasions that it would organize “at least one” transplant factory by the end of 2011. With one month left to accomplish that goal and no signs of progress in sight, the UAW has officially called off that goal. In fact, the UAW now hopes to simply pick an automaker to target by the end of 2011. Spokeswoman Michelle Martin tells Bloomberg
At this point, our hope is to make a decision about who we’re going to target by the end of the year. But obviously, we won’t have the organizing campaign completed by the end of the year.
This is not too surprising, considering the UAW announced last week that it would be focusing on dealership pickets initially rather than factory organizing. And sure enough, the first dealership picket has begun, targeting Hyundai dealerships. And yet, says Martin
This has nothing to do with the domestic organizing campaign. Hyundai is not the target.
Huh? If the UAW is not committing to organizing Hyundai’s assembly workers, why picket Hyundai dealerships?
The Freep explains that the union is targeting 75 Hyundai dealerships, in order to show international solidarity, a recurring theme in the presidency of UAW boss Bob King. Says King
The UAW has embraced a global vision of social justice and will mobilize its membership to defend labor rights here and in other parts of the world
So, what is the UAW picketing in solidarity with? Martin tells the Freep that Hyundai’s Korean unions are picketing across Korea to protest the firing of a worker whistleblower. According to Martin
The worker, who is employed by a Hyundai subcontractor, was fired after she reported the sexual harassment in 2010 to Korea’s National Human Rights Commission… The commission ruled in the worker’s favor and ordered the subcontractor to pay damages and rehire the worker, but the subcontractor has refused.
A UAW statement adds
Holding banners that read, “Stop Sex Discrimination at Hyundai” and “Reinstate Ms. Park,” UAW members from Los Angeles to New York, at more than 75 different dealerships, informed American auto buyers about an injustice to an autoworker on the other side of the globe.
“Though we may work for different companies and in different countries, as workers, we support each other’s struggles and know that one of the best ways to hold our employers accountable is through consumer action at dealerships,” said Mike O’Rourke, an 33-year employee and president of UAW Local 1853 at General Motors’ Manufacturing Facility in Spring Hill, Tenn.
Hyundai Motor America’s response: the worker was an employee of a subcontractor at Glovis, a Hyundai “affiliate,” therefore
the issue has nothing to do with Hyundai Motor Company
In other words, the UAW will be alienating itself from Hyundai’s US workers and dealers over one person who doesn’t even work for Hyundai. Standing on principle is great, but trying to block sales of cars will not exactly endear Hyundai’s assembly workers to the union. Meanwhile, similarly to the UAW’s last protest against Hyundai, there doesn’t seem to be as much moral clarity on this issue as the UAW would like it to appear. Of course sexual harassment has no place in the workplace, and the circumstances of this case in particular do not sound good, but by hammering on the treatment of contracted employees, and by associating the contracter “affiliates” with the automakers they work for, the UAW opens itself up to criticism along the same lines.
The Freep is also reporting today that the UAW has called off a protest that was planned at GM’s Orion Assembly plant, over contract negotiations with a supplier at that plant. Workers at the GM affiliate supplier LINC, who organize and deliver parts for the Orion plant, make ten dollars per hour, less even than the “Tier Two” wages that most Orion assembly workers make. And yet, with GM’s stock (which funds part of the UAW’s VEBA account) remaining weak, it seems unlikely that the union will actually protest, let alone strike, over the LINC wages. Which raises a tough question for the union: why are they so concerned about transplant workers making $14.50 per hour and up when they are working alongside folks making $10 per hour? And if workers at a Hyundai supplier are Hyundai’s responsibility, why isn’t the UAW livid at GM for allowing LINC to hire workers for such low wages? And in light of these fundamental contradictions, a single case of apparent injustice half the world away seems even less relevant.