The way United Auto Workers President Bob King sees it, it’s a case of foreign automakers suppressing wages by not accepting union employees. King expressed concern before a gathering of current and former UAW members at the UAW’s National Community Action Program that if foreign automakers don’t toe the line with unions, wages for suppliers and new auto workers won’t be able to rise.
UAW looks to halt ‘downward slide’
King told a UAW-friendly audience of 1,500 that unions must make progress organizing foreign automaker production plants, as the current trajectory of the UAW is in “a downward slide.”
“The honest truth is you never win justice unless you have the power to demand to get that justice,” King said. “We will never win full wages and benefits — equal pay — for our sisters and brothers in the second tier, or the entry level in the Big Three, or in the parts supplier sector if we leave over half the auto industry unorganized.”
UAW seeks to beat long odds
King did not mince words when he stated that UAW officials have to “redouble” and “re-triple” their efforts. Union membership in 2012 shrunk to its lowest figure since the Great Depression.
“The honest truth is that we are at a downward slide in America for the middle class. We’ve been in a downward slide for UAW members honestly — that’s the brutal honesty,” King said. “We win good — we win decent contracts — against really tremendous odds. We’ve done a great job, but we’re not growing. We’re not expanding.”
Even UAW’s more fruitful dealings with the Detroit Three have left something to be desired. The 2011 labor agreement included no base wage increase for the majority of workers, second-tier wages for new workers not included. Suppliers like Delphi Corp. and Visteon Corp. either closed or had to outsource U.S. UAW production jobs to lower-wage countries.
What to expect in 2015
When the UAW’s next contract comes up for negotiation before 2015, the outlook will be rosy, said economist Sean McAlinden of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. However, transplanted workers must be organized. Pressure to keep wages above $20 per hour at foreign plants has helped, but the most significant gains can only occur under full unionization, noted King.
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Capturing hearts and minds
Part of the problem, notes AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Elizabeth Shuler, is that too many younger workers aren’t recognizing the benefits of union membership.
“We know that as fewer people have family connections to a union, we are losing the hearts and minds of the public,” Shuler said. “We just need to reach back to get their hearts and minds.”