UAW's efforts to unionize nonunion automakers

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【Summary】The United Auto Workers (UAW) is planning to organize nonunion automakers, including Toyota and Tesla, following their success in bargaining with the Detroit Three. UAW leaders are launching organizing drives and highlighting recent wage increases won in agreements with major automakers to attract workers from nonunion factories.

FutureCar Staff    Nov 03, 2023 9:21 AM PT
UAW's efforts to unionize nonunion automakers

Leaders of the United Auto Workers (UAW) have announced their plans to launch organizing drives at nonunion U.S. auto factories, including Toyota and Tesla. This move comes after the union's success in bargaining with the Detroit Three automakers. UAW organizing director Brian O. Shepherd posted on social media about the potential benefits for Toyota workers if they joined the UAW campaign, highlighting the recent wage increase and reduction in time to reach the top pay rate for U.S. workers. Other foreign automakers, such as Honda, are also reviewing the recent UAW deals and aiming to remain competitive.

Toyota has emphasized the history of stable employment and income provided to its plant workers through collaboration. The automaker stated that the decision to unionize ultimately lies with its employees. UAW president Shawn Fain is expected to address the details of the union's new contract with Stellantis in a video message. Fain has expressed the union's determination to organize workers at nonunion U.S. automakers, leveraging the wage increases achieved in agreements with Stellantis, General Motors, and Ford. The UAW has set ambitious goals to organize beyond the Big Three automakers in the future.

Workers at nonunion auto factories in the southern United States have been reaching out to the UAW, with many calls coming from Toyota's assembly operation in Georgetown, Kentucky. UAW Region 8 director Tim Smith highlighted the importance of considering total wages and benefits, not just the wage rate. The UAW has faced challenges in organizing nonunion U.S. auto factories due to right-to-work labor laws that make union dues optional for workers. Previous attempts to organize workers at Tesla's Fremont, California, factory were unsuccessful, but the UAW remains committed to its organizing efforts.

The UAW's organizing efforts have been hindered by a federal investigation into corruption within the union's leadership. However, UAW president Shawn Fain has promised reform and aims to bring about wide-ranging changes. Toyota's recent decision to raise wages aligns with the strategy employed by nonunion automakers to deter UAW organizers. While these automakers offer wages similar to the UAW rates, their overall labor costs are lower due to reduced spending on health and retirement benefits. They also employ more temporary workers who receive lower pay.

If the Detroit Three ratify the agreements that include pay increases for veteran workers, restoration of cost-of-living allowances, and higher pay for temporary workers, the gaps in labor costs between nonunion and unionized automakers will widen. Ford sources estimate that average hourly labor costs at foreign automakers are currently $55, compared to $64 under the old UAW contract. The estimated U.S. labor costs at Tesla range from $45 to $50 per hour.

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