With declining membership and fees paired with a defeat in a close election recently held at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Detroit Three fear the United Auto Workers not only have no future, but their replacement would bring back the days of turmoil settled over a decade before.
The Detroit Free Press reports the three Detroit automakers worry the UAW could be absorbed by another, more hostile union not as willing to keep labor costs competitive with overseas competitors, as well disrupting the brokered peace which set lower wages for new hires and health care concessions that brought United States production costs on parity with Japan.
Meanwhile, the UAW continues to weaken, as annual dues fell by 40 percent to $115 million over the period between 2006 and 2012 with membership falling by 30 percent to 382,000 in the same period, having peaked at 1.5 million members in 1979. The union’s assets totaled $1 billion in 2012, making the UAW the wealthiest union the U.S., though $300 million in assets were liquidated in the six-year period to pay operating expenses while spending was cut 15 percent; $47 million in assets were sold in the last year alone to balance the union’s budget. Further, with lower wages from new workers unable to fill the coffers fast enough to make up the difference, the UAW may raise dues for the first time in 47 years.
In UAW president Bob King’s view, the union has no future without an organized South, where transplants such as VW and BMW have expanded in the region over the past decade as more and more factories in and around Detroit closed. King’s potential successor, secretary-treasurer Dennis Williams, has vowed to fight on, from higher wages for new hires to more organization battles in the South; the UAW recently filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board over the outcome of the Volkswagen vote.