The UAW Ultimatum: Let us in or we'll huff and we'll puff and tear your house down...

First, came the Japanese—Datsun, Toyota and Honda. Then, came the Germans—Mercedes and BMW. Then others came as well. Each foreign competitor having taken more and more of the UAW’s slice of the pie. Somewhere along the way, it finally dawned on the UAW’s leaders that foreign imports were cleaning their clock—and, worst of all, setting up their own UAW-free shops right in the union’s own backyard. By then, though, it was too late.


After years of trying to beat back the threat of foreign automakers, the UAW finally resigned itself to the fact that they are here to stay.  That realization, however, came at the heavy price of lost members by the tens of thousands and a bleak financial picture for the future (with or without tax-payer funded bailouts). As a result, the shareholders of General Motors and Chrysler (the UAW) have become more determined than ever to unionize the U.S. auto plants owned by Asian and German car companies. That determination, though, poses a significant challenge for the UAW: After demonizing the foreign car companies for so many years, how can the UAW convince their employees join the union?

Well, in answer to that, the UAW’s newly-anointed top boss, Bob King, believes he’s got the right approach which encompasses both a carrot and a stick.

First, the carrot: We’re here to help…

According to the UAW’s Bob King, the Union of Ailing Workplaces UAW has a better story to tell these days:

King said the UAW has a better story to tell transplant workers today than it had over several decades of failed efforts to organize those workers.

UAW-represented hourly workers have been instrumental in the quality and productivity gains that the Detroit 3 have made in recent years, positioning their products to compete globally, King said.

The UAW also was first to the table to make concessions and sacrifices that have helped Ford Motor Co.General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group to emerge from the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, he said.

Those concessions equate to between $7,000 and $30,000 per worker, King has said. The UAW now represents about 120,000 hourly workers at the Detroit 3, down several fold from even a decade ago because of plant closings and buyouts.


In other words, Bob King is promising that, if the foreign-owned automakers open up their plants to the UAW, he can help with productivity and quality gains. However, if that doesn’t help, he will also lead the way on worker concessions. Now, while that carrot may sound sweet, it isn’t necessarily an engendering message to the UAW’s own members, or to the employees of the foreign-owned car companies.

However, if the carrot doesn’t work, then Bob King appears ready to use the stick known as race-baiting.

In July, the United Auto Workers’ teamed up with Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition to launch a “campaign for social and economic justice.”

“We’re gonna be out there in the streets demanding social and economic justice for all working families, all workers, in this country and around the world,” King said at an event kicking off the campaign in Detroit.

Then, in August, the top UAW boss issued his “shame campaign” ultimatum to non-union employers that was tantamount to making them an offer they couldn’t refuse. The UAW, King said, was unilaterally drafting a set of guiding principles that he expected companies to sign on to. If they refused, there would be h*ll to pay.

…[W]e are crafting a set of guidelines called the UAW Principles for Fair Union Elections. These principles are being adapted from guidelines developed by the labor/management Institute for Employee Choice. They include requirements such as equal access to the employees for both union and management and prohibition of making derogatory, insulting or untruthful statements about the other party.


Our position is that we will demand that companies respect the rights of their workers to decide freely whether or not to join the UAW.  If companies violate workers’ rights, if companies take vicious anti-union actions, we will expose those companies in any and every way we can until they agree to respect workers’ rights and to rectify their anti-union actions.


If companies choose not to respect the rights of American workers – whether those companies are American or foreign-owned – then the UAW will use every resource at our disposal to convince those companies to abide by our democracy. [Emphasis added.]


Now that January is nearly upon him, King’s allies are gearing up for their role in the fight.

When UAW President Bob King launches the union’s organizing drive of Asian and German automakers next month, he is counting on help from his friends.

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said last week that he was eager to hear from King on how his Rainbow PUSH coalition can serve the cause. The organization has thousands of members and supporters in 50 major U.S. markets.

The Detroit chapter of the NAACP is ready to help. Even small unions such as the Farm Labor Organizing Committee for migrant farm workers will turn out volunteers to leaflet, make phone calls or demonstrate if King asks, said Baldemar Velasquez, president of the union, which is based in Toledo, Ohio.

With the future of his union at stake, the UAW’s Bob King, appears ready to stoop to pretty low levels in order to “shame” the transplants into unionization, including deploying race-baiting tactics.

However, the one good thing about this whole vulgar display of union desperation is the fact that King has broadcast his intent so broadly that any attack on the workforces of the foreign-owned auto plants should be viewed with a sense of skepticism.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.”  Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

Photo attribution: The Truth About Cars


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