By on July 2, 2012

If you believe Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, the CAW is well on its way to organizing Honda’s Alliston, Ontario assembly plant. Lewenza told Ward’s Auto that “We’re getting some enthusiastic and strong support, but we’re not there yet.” The biggest problem for Lewenza is that the CAW has been in that position for almost two decades with respect to Alliston and hasn’t made any progress.

You may not know that, if the only thing you’ve seen so far are totally inaccurate, poorly aggregated articles like “CAW Begins to Organize Workers at Honda’s Ontario Factory“. This is simply not true. The CAW isn’t begging to organize workers at Alliston. Nor are Honda’s Canadian plant employees a bunch of pinkos who want to revolt against their foreign overlords while reaping the benefits of a union card. The truth is far more mundane and less exciting, as it usually is.

Honda hasn’t gone on the record with any publication regarding the CAW’s attempts – but we have sources that are familiar with the company, and are willing to talk to us. According to our source, the CAW has been trying this since at least the early1990s, but has never had much success.

There are assembly line workers at Alliston who want to unionize, but the majority apparently have no desire; wages are competitive and union dues don’t have to be paid. The union hasn’t been warmly received in the past either.  Alliston, which builds the Honda Civic, CR-V, Acura MDX and ZDX, is one of Honda’s crown jewels in North America, and to Honda brass, the idea of unionization is anathema to the Big H’s corporate culture.

“It runs counter to the Japanese concept of loyalty,” our source said. “The whole idea is that if you’re loyal to the company, they’ll look out for you and your best interests. The workers shouldn’t need a union for that.” Honda also doesn’t want an outside force interfering in the way their plants are run. As our source put it “…[Organizing] interferes with the management structure of the plant itself – which is unacceptable to them.” As for what would happen if Alliston, or another Honda plant unionized? “Well,” said my source “remember what happened to Wal-Mart in Quebec?”

The idea that the union is making “progress” like so many blog headlines suggest, may be relative to say, being nearly dead in the water over the past two decades. The CAW is, to put it lightly, f***ed if they don’t sign up new members, and in a world where even the Oshawa plant is at risk, their future is precarious at best.

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18 Comments on “The CAW’s Long, Futile Road To Organizing Honda Plants...”


  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby

    The fact that the CAW has been trying to unionize there since the 1990′s speaks volumes. I knew some employees at a Honda parts depot in Loudon, TN and I can vouch for the fact that Honda employees are treated well.

  • avatar
    Matt Fink

    During my summer working at the Marysville, OH Honda plant in the late 1990′s I found similar feelings. No one was interested in having the Union come in. The response I always received when I asked was, “As long as Honda keeps treating us right, why would we ever want to have the union come in here?”

  • avatar
    replica

    Unions were replaced by “The HR department.”

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    “It runs counter to the Japanese concept of loyalty,” our source said. “The whole idea is that if you’re loyal to the company, they’ll look out for you and your best interests. The workers shouldn’t need a union for that.”

    If that’s true, then why are all of the workers at Honda’s Japanese plants unionized? If this “loyalty” is a cross-cultural phenomenon, why are virtually ALL Japanese autoworkers unionized? And why have there been no attempts to bust these unions, if the entire concept runs contrary to some universally accepted Japanese ethos? Unionization isn’t anathema to Honda’s culture; spending money on worker compensation is. That’s why the management scandals of the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s were allowed to run unchecked for decades. It was cheaper to permit graft and corruption in the ranks of upper management than it was to pay executives a fair market wage, so the Japanese managers looked the other way.

    It should be up to the plant workers to decide if they want to unionize or not. Accepting tired and trite excuses about “culture” just obscures the real issues: money, money, and money.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      PintoFan: If that’s true, then why are all of the workers at Honda’s Japanese plants unionized? If this “loyalty” is a cross-cultural phenomenon, why are virtually ALL Japanese autoworkers unionized? And why have there been no attempts to bust these unions, if the entire concept runs contrary to some universally accepted Japanese ethos?

      The Japanese autoworker unions are not like the UAW (or CAW). Since Nissan broke the militant faction of the union during a 1953 strike, Japanese unions function more on the order of company unions, which were banned by the Wagner Act in this country.

      I’d suggest reading The Reckoning by David Halberstam, which was published in 1986. It gives an excellent overview of the Japanese auto industry as it rebuilt from the ashes of World War II and began exporting vehicles to this country in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It also contains a very thorough segment devoted to this strike.

      PintoFan: Unionization isn’t anathema to Honda’s culture; spending money on worker compensation is. That’s why the management scandals of the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s were allowed to run unchecked for decades. It was cheaper to permit graft and corruption in the ranks of upper management than it was to pay executives a fair market wage, so the Japanese managers looked the other way.

      The management scandals were the result of shortages of Honda vehicles created by voluntary restriction on the importation of Japanese vehicles. These voluntary restrictions lasted for several years in the 1980s. People wanted Hondas (and, after 1985, Acuras), and were willing to pay sticker price, or more, to get them.

      This scandal had nothing to do with the compensation of assembly line workers at Marysville or anywhere else in Honda’s North American operations. It involved EXECUTIVES and DEALERS. Unless the assembly line workers were somehow spiriting finished vehicles out of the plant and selling them to friends and relatives at or above sticker.

      PintoFan: It should be up to the plant workers to decide if they want to unionize or not. Accepting tired and trite excuses about “culture” just obscures the real issues: money, money, and money.

      I agree. The workers have made their decision and clearly don’t want it. They are getting enough money – if anything, authorizing the union as a bargaining representative would REDUCE their pay, thanks to the deduction for union dues.

      The real problem is that Honda isn’t dumb enough to repeat the mistakes of GM and Ford in the 1930s (including the infamous “Battle of the Overpass” at Ford’s Rouge operations) that gave the union a foothold in the first place. If nothing else, the Japanese have been very good students of history.

      Time for the union and its supporters to move on…it’s not 1935 anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        I fully agree with you, Geeber. Pintofan needs to realize that Japanese “unions” are actually employee societies that largely work WITH and not AGAINST management, so that the COMPANY as a whole can succeed better. Gee, what a new idea! Any relationship between unions here and unions there is the name “unions” and little else.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I forget the act, but I believe GM & Ford were essentially forced to allow unions under FDR. So to a large degree their struggle wasn’t completely their fault.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Warms my heart… in away that as nothing to do with unions or anti-union. I believe that unions have a proper place in the workforce, but that is neither here nor there to what makes me happy about this story.

    I’m a firm believer that corporate culture comes first before management. You need both, but my feeling is that good management springs from good culture. The workers have to have a reason to be there, too many companies work hard at selling products to customers, but don’t make nearly the same argument to workers about why they have to work there. As a manager, nothing beats having good culture, the teams are so much more responsive…. you nee more out of them, they give you more. You need to change direction, things happen quickly. It’s not often you get to work in an environment like that… too often, people fight you all the way.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Corporate culture is the reason I think that GM & Chrysler are hosed, despite recent success stories. Everything I read just doesn’t tell me that anything has changed, and that means the bad decisions they made before will be made again, and they will end up in the same place as before.

      Hopefully I’m wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Last year we bought a new 2012 Grand Cherokee from “hosed” Chrysler. I was never a Chrysler fan. I thought they made crap cars. All my previous used-Jeep ownership experiences sucked!

        But here’s what changed since Chrysler became a subdivision of Fiat. We are repeatedly contacted by the Jeep dealer either by phone or by email with inquiries about how well our ownership experience is progressing and if we need any help or have questions.

        Even the folks in Auburn Hills call us to ask if we will complete a satisfaction survey. As a reward we get a free oil&filter change and tire rotation.

        This dealer is in Arizona and we live in New Mexico. We bought this Jeep on a spur of the moment as we were passing through Phoenix on I-10, and saw it on a flatbed trailer being unloaded.

        I got the same support and inquiries for both the 2008 Highlander and the 2011 Tundra I bought from the dealership in Texas.

        So something has changed! Maybe carmageddon scared the pants offa the manufacturers and dealerships. Maybe the unions have nothing to offer employees that would entice them to want to pay dues, because if the manufacturers do not keep their employees happy then the ownership experience for the buyers may suffer.

        We saw this during the 70s, 80s and 90s, when the mass exodus away from the domestic manufacturers occurred and the unions continued to strike their employers into submission instead of helping their employers to become profitable again.

        Maybe the unions should publicize exactly what they can give prospective new members, other than job insecurity and collectively bargaining their employers into bankruptcy.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Hmmm… Unionized in Japan but not here. Movement to build Japanese vehicles here. I wonder if the two are connected.

    I am a retired teacher who never was a member of the teachers union. Probably that says everything pertinent about how I feel about them. And no. I did not Piggyback on union benefits. The state of Texas doesn’t seem to need unions to pay teachers well.

    I think Unions were needed in the 20′s and 30′s to establish some benefits for workers. They are probably responsible for the five day work week. For me, however, their time has gone. They now represent a massive block of Democrat party organizing. Politics should play no part in them. When I stop thinking they are political hacks, perhaps I’ll take them more seriously. Maybe that’s why they seem to be dying on the vine.

    BTW, I am not subscribed so haters just go ahead and vent your spleen.

  • avatar

    The worst thing about the UAW is that it’s in it for itself.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      That’s a general flaw of unions – the big ones are big business just like the evil companies from which they ‘protect’ their members.

      Unionizing more factories isn’t about protecting their members, it’s about increasing revenue. They have a product to sell, after all.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    I work at a dealer that fortunately is NOT union, we just do our jobs. The Teamsters have tried to come in a couple of times, our wages would’ve dropped (maintenance rate vs shop rate, etc.), our medical coverage would’ve lost quality, and we would be at the whim of the central union kollective center regarding strikes instead of (usually successfully) negotiating for one’s self.

    Hope the ownership holds on through this turbulent time in the industry. That ILX is a nice ride.

  • avatar
    rnc

    Union this, Union that. Why is it that Germany, so heavily unionized prospers, while the US, once so heavily unionized has watched it’s industrial manufacturing might die??? Co-Determination. In Germany the unions know exactly what the financial states of the companies are, they know how much they can take and when to give back (additionally management knows it cannot hide anything and must plan far ahead). Do you think the USW (first) or UAW ever really wanted to know the true state of the companies finances? (on the flip side do you think management ever wanted them to know?) Despite the obvious benefits to both sides (short-term greed vs. long term prosperity, sounds familiar these days)

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    The trouble with unions is that the workers trade their loyalty to the Brand for loyalty to the union. This necessitates a lack of shared goals with the brand and (nearly) always results in a drop in quality, as well as other tangible and intangible results. However, if you mistreat your workers long enough, you may get a union, and you probably deserve it. Little or no mistreatment, no union.

  • avatar
    oboylepr

    Lewenza must think the workers at Honda are idiots. If Honda workers want a good idea of what life will be life with the CAW, all the have to do is look at the mess in GM Oshawa. Thats the future they face if they unionise with the CAW. If they must have a union they should establish an independent union of their own. If they are to have a future keep the CAW out at all costs. The CAW is destroying the auto industry in Canada.


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