On Tuesday, the New York Times published a look at the ongoing feud between pro- and anti-union forces at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It paints a picture of a political battle fought mainly by outside forces, utilizing the deep pockets of some of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups.
Fords are loaded for export at the Port of Baltimore. Photo: Bill McAllen / Port of Baltimore
When most people think about countries that export cars one name that’s usually not on their list is the United States, but the U.S. is exporting more cars than ever. According to the Detroit News, the record total this year is likely to reach 2 million units and perhaps even more surprising than that number if the fact that half of the exports are cars made by GM, Ford and Chrysler. The remainder come from assembly plants located in the U.S. owned by German, Japanese and Korean automakers. Cars are the most valuable manufacturing export from the U.S., followed by aerospace. Spurring the growth in exports is the fact that the United States is currently one of the less expensive places to build a car, due to favorable currency exchange rates and reduced labor costs. (Read More…)
Norwood Jewell, a nominee to become a UAW vice-president, said that the autoworkers want to eliminate the two-tier wage system that pays new hires at a lower rate than higher seniority workers. The wage system was agreed to by the union to help the domestic automakers as they went through financial troubles when the economy turned down in 2007. New workers are paid slightly more than half of what veteran autoworkers earn.
“The international executive board hates two-tiers,” Jewell told Automotive News at a General Motors Co plant in Flint, Mich. as the automaker was announcing $1.3 billion in investments in some of its plants in the U.S. midwest, mostly in Michigan. Jewell is currently director of UAW’s Flint region. ”We didn’t do two tiers because it’s a wonderful thing,” he said, explaining that the financial circumstances six years ago more or less forced the two tier wages on the union. “We hate them. We intend to eliminate them over time.” (Read More…)
Ever since Isaac Singer figured that he could make more money making sewing machines for the European market in a factory near Glasgow rather than export them from his Elizabeth, New Jersey plant, manufacturing companies have built products where they’ve sold them.
With membership down to a quarter of the union’s peak size in 1979, dues are not enough to pay the bills at the UAW. The UAW continues to tap into savings to pay for its day-to-day operations, Reuters says. (Read More…)
A good month after our trek to the South where we checked on the (un-) willingness of transplant workers to join the UAW, the hard-hitting team at the Reuters Detroit bureau did the same. In a special report, Reuters comes to the same conclusion as we did: It won’t be easy. Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman of Reuters did more thorough digging. And they unearthed the secret strategy of the UAW: With the help of the German metalworkers union, they want to talk themselves into Volkswagen and Daimler: (Read More…)
The UAW called off the transplant war. It won’t even identify an organizing target among foreign automakers with U.S. operations, UAW President Bob King told Reuters (via Automotive News [sub] ):
“We are not going to announce a target at all. We are not going to create a fight.” (Read More…)
As predicted, the hand-wringing over Sergio Marchionne’s letter to Bob King was not enough to derail the basic motivations for the UAW to reach new deals with the automakers. Last night the union agreed to a tentative agreement with GM, its pattern target for this, the first round of negotiations since the bailout. That agreement must be approved by the union rank-and-file, but if ratified, Reuters reports that it includes
- The re-opening of the idled Spring Hill, TN plant to build an unspecified “new product”
- $5,000 signing bonuses (at a cost to GM of $245m)
- According to the NYT, “significant improvements to health care benefits” are also part of the deal
- According to AN [sub], the union “successfully fought back efforts to make major changes — and weaken — our retirement plan.”
After the UAW threatened to start 2011 with a bang by going after foreign-owned “transplant” factories and accusing uncooperative firms of human rights violations, the union’s campaign suddenly went quiet earlier this year. With the union’s fate apparently hanging in the balance, all we’d heard was a polite “no thanks” from Honda and a more subtle message from Hyundai, and little else. Was the war still on, we wondered? UAW boss Bob King tells Reuters that yes, it definitely is… sort of.
To our pleasant surprise a lot of companies have agreed to confidential discussions with us. What they’ll lead to, I don’t know. Some days I’m worried, some days I’m frustrated. Are we putting too much hope into these discussions? I don’t know, but we’re continuing them and we feel like we’re making some progress
And that’s not all…
As Bob King and the United Auto Workers gear up for their January organizing campaign aimed at converting transplant automakers to the union way, the UAW is picking up support from outside the automotive industry. Automotive News [sub] reports that Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition has expressed its interest in organizing the non-union auto assembly plants, and that the Detroit bureau of the NAACP has pledged assistance as well, offering to request assistance from its national leadership. Even the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which organizes migrant farm workers, has said it would join the fight if King asks. And though AN’s writeup uses the imagery of conflict to describe King’s “soldiers,” King insists that its strategy is not confrontational. As far as the President of the UAW is concerned,
Transplant workers in the South will want to be part of this “winning team,” King said.