UAW Announces Initiative to Organize Non-Union Workplaces – The New York Times

The United Automobile Workers union said Wednesday it is embarking on an ambitious push to organize plants owned by more than a dozen non-union automakers, including Tesla and several foreign companies – a goal that has long eluded it.

The move comes weeks after the UAW won new contracts from General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis that provided pay increases of 25 percent or more over four and a half years for its 146,000 members.

In addition to Tesla, the targets of the campaign are two other electric vehicle start-ups, Lucid and Rivian, as well as ten foreign car manufacturers: Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, Volkswagen, Mazda and Volvo.

These companies’ U.S. plants employ nearly 150,000 workers in 13 states, the union said.

If the organizing effort gains momentum, it could become one of the UAW’s largest since its beginnings in the 1930s. The union’s previous efforts to organize even individual factories of foreign car manufacturers concentrated in the south failed. If these companies gained a foothold, it would mark a major change in the American auto industry, where non-union manufacturers have long had a significant cost advantage over Detroit automakers.

The union said the organizing campaign was sparked by requests from several thousand workers at non-union plants.

“Workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially the South, are reaching out to join our movement and the UAW,” union President Shawn Fain said in a video posted on Facebook. “The money is here. It’s time now.”

A statement from Honda cited the automaker’s “competitive wages and benefits” and added: “We do not believe that an outside party would enhance the excellent employment experience of our employees.” Subaru did not comment directly on the union initiative, but referred to one series of wage increases and a comprehensive benefits package.

Rivian and Volkswagen said they had no comment. The other companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, the UAW activated websites where workers can electronically sign cards that serve as official confirmation of their desire for union representation. Previously, the UAW had already received signed ID cards from more than 30 percent of the workforce at a handful of plants. That’s the threshold required under federal law for the union to move forward with a unionization vote, a person familiar with the matter said.

The union is now working to send organizers to the surrounding areas of these non-union plants to work with workers at these factories, this person said.

After the UAW agreed to wage increases with Detroit automakers, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai announced they would also raise workers’ wages.

Toyota has told workers it will increase hourly rates by 9 percent in January. Honda will increase wages by 11 percent and Hyundai by 14 percent next year. Hyundai wants to increase wages by 25 percent by 2028.

The UAW said Wednesday it is making a concerted effort to build a large Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, that will employ about 7,800 workers and produce the Camry sedan and RAV4 sport utility vehicle.

UAW members have long earned more than non-union workers. In factories in the South, wages typically start at less than $20 an hour and range to less than $30. The highest UAW hourly wage, previously $32, rose to more than $40 in the contracts the union signed with the three Detroit manufacturers.

The UAW has come up short in union votes at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., twice in the past decade – in 2014 and 2019, and narrowly in 2017. Organizing efforts at other companies’ plants have stalled before a vote came.

But after Mr. Fain became union president this year, the union pledged a more aggressive approach to its contract negotiations with the Big Three and vowed to increase efforts to expand its reach in the industry.

In addition to wage increases at Detroit companies, the UAW was able to reach agreements to preserve jobs and maintain a Stellantis plant in Illinois that was scheduled to close.

Arthur Wheaton, director of labor studies at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said the UAW’s wage increases make a stronger case for joining the union.

“It shows that collective bargaining works and that the UAW has been successful,” he said. “You can say, ‘We saved this facility. Look at what we have. You can have that too.’”

Previous organizing efforts were marred because the UAW had a tarnished image, Mr. Wheaton added: Many unionized factories were closed, their members forced to accept pay and benefit cuts, to help Detroit manufacturers weather the 2009 financial crisis to survive, and corruption investigations at the federal level had implicated high-ranking union officials.

“A lot of the negative things about the union — a lot of them are gone now,” Mr. Wheaton said.

Santul Nerkar contributed reporting.