Foreign automakers keeping UAW out of plants

While labor unions have done well at organizing work forces at United States-based automakers, they've struggled to get into foreign automaker facilities in the United States. According to a recent MSNBC story:

While the UAW continues to represent Detroit’s Big Three manufacturers, it has all but completely failed to gain representation rights for the so-called transplant lines now run by virtually all the major foreign-owned automakers, from BMW to Toyota to Volkswagen.

UAW president Bob King sees these efforts as crucial to the survival of the labor union, warning "If we don't organize these transnationals, I don't think there's a long-term future for the UAW, I really don't". Last year, it was reported the UAW was considering going after Volkswagen and Daimler plants and now is reportedly looking at attempting to organize a Nissan plant in Mississippi. But the track record of organizing these companies plants isn't good.

Past efforts to organize Nissan plants have failed handily, often voted down by two-to-one margins. A Volkswagen plant in Pennsylvania organized in the 70s, reportedly with the help of threats from German-based labor unions, was closed in the 1980s. Daimler struggled with organized labor in Chrysler plants before it sold the company several years ago, which doesn't exactly give the German automaker reason to want to deal with them now.

Much of this is attributed to these companies paying competitive wages, without the need for labor unions to intervene on the behalf of workers or the resulting loss of wages to pay labor union dues.

Toyota Motor Corp. gave workers at its largest U.S. plant bonuses of $6,000 to $8,000, boosting the average pay at the Georgetown, KY, plant to the equivalent of $30 an hour. That compares with a $27 hourly average for UAW workers, most of whom did not receive profit-sharing checks last year. Toyota would not provide a U.S. average, but said its 7,000-worker Georgetown plant is representative of its U.S. operations.

Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. are not far behind Toyota and UAW pay levels. Comparable wages have long been one way foreign companies fight off UAW organizing efforts.

These developments certainly bring into question the long-term prospects for the UAW, once one of the nation's most powerful labor unions. As the Big Three automakers where most UAW members work continue to struggle to retain market share and return to profitability, King and the UAW may want to reconsider its present business model if it wants to survive and remain a relevant participant in the American manufacturing sector in the years to come.

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