The United Auto Workers union says it has started an effort to organize workers at 13 non-union automakers with US factories.
The union says it is seeing widespread grassroots support from employees at the plants after reaching labor deals with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis that granted members an immediate raise of at least 11% and subsequent raises and cost-of-living adjustments that could raise wages more than 30% over the life of contracts that run through April of 2028.
The effort includes three US-based electric vehicle makers – Tesla, Rivian and Lucid – as well as 10 foreign automakers that build cars in the US – BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.
The union said there are about 150,000 employees at 36 nonunion auto plants operated by the companies it is targeting in this campaign. That is slightly more than the union’s representation at the three unionized automakers, which have about 145,000 UAW members between them.
The union said that one of the strongest campaigns is at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky, assembly complex, where it said 7,800 workers make Toyota Camry and Lexus ES sedans and the Toyota Rav4 SUV. The union quoted one employee there, Jeff Allen, saying he supports the organizing campaign despite the recent wage increase Toyota announced.
“We’ve lost so much since I started here, and the raise won’t make up for that,” said Allen. “It won’t make up for the health benefits we’ve lost, it won’t make up for the wear and tear on our bodies. We still build a quality vehicle. People take pride in that, but morale is at an all-time low. A union contract is the only way to win what’s fair.”
At least four of the nonunion automakers – Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Subaru – have confirmed their own pay raises since the contracts were reached to end a six-week strike at the three unionized automakers. The union is calling those raises the “UAW bump,” and is using the contract gains as a central part of its organizing efforts.
“To all the autoworkers out there working without the benefits of a union: now it’s your turn,” said UAW President Shawn Fain in the video Wednesday. “Since we began our Stand Up Strike, the response from autoworkers at nonunion companies has been overwhelming. Workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially in the South are reaching out to join our movement and to join the UAW.”
“The time is right,” Fain said. “And the answer is simple. You don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay your rent or feed your family while the company makes billions. A better life is out there.”
Most of the automakers did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Those that did comment on the organizing effort directly said their employees are better off without a union.
“We do not believe an outside party would enhance the excellent employment experience of our associates, nor would it improve upon the outstanding track record of success and employment stability Honda manufacturing associates in America have achieved,” said the statement from Honda.
“Our history reflects that Nissan respects the right of employees to determine who should represent their interests in the workplace. However, we believe our workplace is stronger without the involvement of a third party,” said Nissan’s statement.
Referring to unions as third parties is a common management tactic when attempting to defeat a union. But if a union organizing campaign is successful, the union will be made up of workers from the company.
This is not the first time the union has attempted to organize any of these companies. It has been able to get enough support at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee to have union elections there twice, and twice at plants operated by Nissan in Canton, Mississippi and Smyrna, Tennessee.
But most organizing efforts, such at its efforts to represent workers at Tesla, have fallen short of gaining enough support to enable collective bargaining. The union has filed complaints accusing many of the automakers of unfair labor practices during those earlier organizing efforts.
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