In less than a decade, the number of auto company workers employed by companies other than the Big 3 has risen from 25 to 39 percent. But by 2017 that number could rise to 50 percent.
With a tough negotiating session with its traditional employers now complete, the United Auto Workers are turning their focus back to the year’s primary goal: organizing the transplant factories. 2011 was supposed to be the year in which the UAW took down “at least one” foreign-owned auto plant, with the union’s boss even going as far as to say
If we don’t organize the transnationals, I don’t think there is a long-term future for the UAW
But as we found, the UAW is not welcome in the South, where most of the transplant factories are found. And with Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and VW all rejecting the UAW’s advances in some form or another, the union’s options are fairly limited. So instead of taking on the factories directly, the UAW is bringing back a questionable tactic from the days when it was misleadingly bashing Toyota for “abandoning” the NUMMI factory: they are taking the fight to dealerships.
Despite the fact that no transplant automaker has admitted to being in direct talks with the UAW, union boss Bob King told the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminar [via Reuters]
The vast majority of the assemblers here in the United States have at least agreed to confidential discussions. We’ve had productive discussions. The last thing we want is confrontation.
So, the issue isn’t that the transplants are all responding to the UAW’s overtures like Honda, which has said
Honda has had no dialogue with the UAW and has no interest in a discussion with them.
No, talks are happening with the “vast majority” of transplants… they just happen to be secret talks (which, at least in the case of VW, appear to be going nowhere). That in itself is strange, considering the UAW’s previous, highly-public approach to naming and shaming non-union transplant manufacturers. More likely: secret talks keep the union from losing face and the transplants from looking like “human rights abusers.” My how things change fast…
Earlier today Bertel noted that the UAW’s goal of organizing “at least one” transplant automaker could be motivated by a desire to earn “brownie points” from the Detroit automakers. But the question that has remained unanswered ever since the union announced its transplant campaign is “which automaker will let the UAW into its plant?” Now that question may have its answer, as Automotive News [sub] reports:
Volkswagen AG and the UAW have intensified discussions about organizing workers at a new plant in Tennessee, German newspaper Handelsblatt reported in a preview of an article that will run Tuesday.
The newspaper, citing Volkswagen officials, said the union and automaker have held meetings and a workshop over the matter in the past few weeks.
VW insists that talks are still preliminary, and that no organizing campaign has yet begun. But, say the UAW, VW’s long tradition of worker unions “more willing to talk to unions about representation.” Ultimately VW says the decision to organize “belongs to our workers alone,” which implies a lot more openness to organization than Honda, for example, has indicated. But Southern workers seem to be largely ambivalent towards the UAW, so just because VW could let organizers into the plant doesn’t mean workers will necessarily vote for union representation. Meanwhile, there’s no word on how a possible UAW organizing campaign could affect a possible new VW/Audi assembly and engine plant that is being considered for the US according to AN [sub]. With Audi execs insisting on the need for more US production capacity, a UAW win in a Volkswagen vote could have serious implications for the firm’s future expansion.
On Tuesday, UAW leaders meeting here described plans to reach out to foreign unions and consumers in what would be their first major campaign since failed efforts in the last decade at Nissan Motor Co. and auto-parts supplier Denso Corp. They hope to be more successful by reaching out to foreign unions at the auto makers’ overseas plants and bringing pressure from prayer vigils, fasts or protests at dealerships.
A person familiar with the matter said the union is now planning to target one foreign auto maker and has narrowed its list to three or four companies. Inside the union, much of the talk centers on targeting the now-struggling Japanese auto maker Toyota or Korea’s Hyundai, this person said.
The UAW has set aside tens of millions of dollars from its strike fund to bankroll its campaign. International actions are to be coordinated with foreign unions and run by some three dozen student interns recruited globally, UAW officials said. When the interns return to their home countries after learning about the UAW efforts in the U.S., they’ll be expected to organize protests against the auto maker, UAW officials said.
OK, so it’s a little bit strange that the UAW is entrusting a campaign that UAW President Bob King calls “the single most important thing we can do for our members ” to a bunch of interns. Still, with “tens of millions of dollars” allocated towards the campaign, some automaker somewhere will be feeling the union’s hot breath on its neck in due course. So, which automaker will the UAW target? Which automaker should they target? And with the UAW apparently refusing to fight the two-tier wage structure, will any transplant or foreign workforce want to join up?