By on March 30, 2010

According to the Detroit News, the United Auto Workers lost nearly 76,000 members in 2009, dropping membership to 355,191, the lowest level since the end of the second world war. UAW membership has fallen nearly in half since 2001, when the union boasted 701,818 members, and has been in steady decline since peaking at 1.53m in 1979. Ironically, the drop in membership comes as the UAW is seeking to expand outside of the contracting auto industry, but gains from organizing teaching assistants, auto dealership employees, health care workers and casino dealers have not been able to stem the tide of losses from the auto industry. And though the union scored something of a coup by securing representation at the new Fisker plant in Delaware, another 4,600 members will be lost when NUMMI closes on April 1. These losses, combined with the loss of 50 local offices, and the union’s inability to organize workers at transplant auto plants all seem to indicate continued decline for the union, which is widely seen as a key contributor to the decades-long collapse of of America’s automakers. But don’t write off the UAW just yet.

The UAW is still a formidable force in American politics, spending about $9.7m on lobbying last year, a slight decline from 2008’s $10.6m spend. The UAW assets and receipts have fallen slightly but are still respectable, as the union brought in $277m last year (down $38m), and total assets fell a mere 70m to $1.13b. And as 55 percent owners of Chrysler and 17.5 percent stakeholders in GM, the union’s VEBA healthcare trust is perhaps the most visible symbol of the UAW’s power. Indeed, the VEBA representative on GM’s board, Stephen Girsky, is an up-and-coming senior advisor to Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre, and increasingly strong presence in GM’s strategy formulation.

But the union’s equity stakes in GM and Chrysler are perhaps the greatest challenges to its continued success. Though union leadership long resisted accepting company stock to fund health care obligations, last year’s bailout left them with little choice. As a result, trust between workers and union bosses (who made an average of $130,583 last year) is weak, as evidenced by protests and anger at the NUMMI plant. As long as the union’s VEBA trust has to balance the needs of workers with the value of their stock holdings in GM and Chrysler, rank-and-file union members will question which priority is most important to the UAW. As long as workers have a hard time telling whether their union bosses are looking out for them or their company stock, it will be near-impossible for the UAW to present itself as an attractive proposition to the nation’s auto workers.

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16 Comments on “UAW Membership Falls 18 Percent, To Lowest Level Since WWII...”

  • avatar

    Unions have done all the good they will ever do in the US. They’ve raised the level and protection of “blue collar” workers. Today they are now an impediment to efficiency of the US industry. It winds up another tax on an overpaid workers income (sorry but the $60k a year salary for high school education line worker has significantly hurt our manufacturing and other industries. Today’s workers and regulations with whistle blowing and communication – workers in the US no longer need this level of protection.

    Where they are needed is in countries where human rights / worker treatment are far substandard (i.e. China – but we know that’ll never happen) in order to raise the std of living for the low income workers (and make the US mfgr sector competitive again).

    • 0 avatar

      Unions had their greatest growth in size and influence after WWII when the United States was the only industrialized country not crippled by the war. It was like the Detroit Lions or St Louis Rams playing a schedule of high school teams. Sure they won but it wasn’t because they were the greatest football team ever.

      The unions and politicians act like it is still 1960. Except for government unions, the economy will continue to shed union jobs.

  • avatar
    Madeleines Petite French Cakes

    ” organizing teaching assistants, ”

    Boy you’re not kidding. I was recruited to join the TA union at UCLA to be represented by UAW. I was like “WTF?” What the hell would an auto worker know about my job? Heck, I’m a Teamster now for a job that’s about as remotely distant from blue collar as you can imagine.

  • avatar

    “But don’t write off the UAW just yet.”

    We shouldn’t. The bailout of the UAW has only just begun. The Washington/Government Motors/UAW axis has, as its next challenge, how to ensure that GM grows. With a direct pipeline into US taxpayer largesse, there are no limits to the forays Government Motors and the UAW can make in new directions. Possibilities extend beyond industrial ventures, and include the administration of Obamacare.

    We also ought not to underestimate Washington’s ability to coerce or bait foreign auto manufacturers into helping prop up Government Motors. The ongoing shakedown of Toyota, which has already produced a $250 million windfall for UAW workers at NUMMI, helps give the flavor.

  • avatar

    The UAW heads don’t care. Membership Shmembership. “The UAW assets and receipts have fallen slightly but are still respectable”. That’s what they care about. It’s not about the workers like Mikey. It’s about keeping the guys at the top in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed to. As long as the money and political power remain intact, they don’t care if they have 300k, a million, or two million workers.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that the union leaders care more for self preservation than what’s good for it’s members, but they absolutely do understand the unbreakable link between size and their continuing power. Remember, the union bosses correctly believe that they, like Citi, AIG and GM, must be too big to fail.

      …. Or else they will.

    • 0 avatar

      I was working in the pit instaliing gas tanks on 72 Pontiac’s. Somewhere around day number three on the job,a tough looking older guy{about 32} come up to me.

      “I’m the commiteeman”{union rep} says he. “Keep your mouth shut and do your job boy, you won’t have to worry about f–k all for the rest of your life”

      I took his advice. That was over 37 years ago.I’m now retired. A lot of folks who work thier ass off every day,don’t make as much as my pension.

      You will have to forgive me,if I don’t join you folks in union bashing…..OK

    • 0 avatar


      I’m not bashing the UAW workers. I am for the workers, but not for the union leadership (at the executive level). If I had a magic wand, we would have a million new auto workers in the US and Canada, but without paying dues to the leadership.

    • 0 avatar

      Even at the local level the greed is sickening,but you quickly learn to tune it out.

      Just a little example here. In late 2008 the best retirement incentive ever, was put on the table. If you signed it, your retiring sometime in 2009. By August of 2009, 90 percent of those that applied were gone. The deal was..everybody will be gone by xmas 2009.

      Everybody..BUT the union reps. First thing they did was give themselves the skilled trade rate of pay {6 bucks an hour=15% more pension} then they pushed thier retirement out till April 2010.

      And to top it all off,thet forgot to mail me, and the other 2000 early retirees our invitation to the retirement party/s

      Bitter? not me.

  • avatar

    Their size may be smaller than ever, but they’ve never had so much control over a US Govt.

  • avatar

    If the UAW was so good for workers and the companies who hire them, they should ask themselves why membership has dropped 76% in one generation, and why non-unionized auto workers don’t want to join.

    The corruption and non-efficacy of the UAW is self-evident to everyone except the few who still drink the UAW Kool-Aid.

    As a comparison, Hewlett-Packard employs 325,000 people alone. I’d say the UAW is becoming less relevant each year.

  • avatar
    Billy Bobb 2

    No problemo, Comrade!

    “Employee Free Choice Act of 2010” coming right up!

    Orwell speak for “sign this pal, all your co-workers did, shame if anything happens to those kneecaps”.

    It will be a Big Effin’ Deal for America!

  • avatar

    I have been in unions and have been union free for nearly 13 years now. I’d like it to stay that way. Fortunately I live in a right to work state.

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