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UAW Chief: Organizing Transplants Vital to Union Future

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The president of the United Auto Workers union says his organization’s future is directly tied to its ability to organize U.S. plants owned by foreign based car companies.

“If we don’t organize these transnationals, I don’t think there’s a long-term future for the UAW, I really don’t,” said UAW President Bob King said in a speech at the union’s legislative conference, in Washington, DC.

King has been discussing his organizing drive a lot in recent months, including a speech just last week at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, where he said he hopes to make the companies understand the union is not “the evil empire.”

In the Washington DC speech directly to union members, King laid out in stark terms the importance of the union’s work to organize a plant owned by a Japanese, South Korean or German competitor to the Detroit Three.

King said the UAW would decide in three months which company it would target. He said the goal is to have at least one of the companies organized in 2011.

During the past three decades, the UAW has had little success in organizing workers at U.S. factories owned by foreign car makers, which have built plants mostly in southern states which are generally not as union-friendly as the industrial Midwest.

Many of the foreign car companies pay wages comparable to UAW-represented factories owned by Detroit automakers, but the foreign companies have avoided UAW rules that owners say can make plants less efficient.

King said after years of declining membership, the union needed to represent a larger share of workers in the auto industry to strengthen its position at the bargaining table. He said the UAW had picketed about 50 of the largest foreign auto dealerships in the U.S. and planned to increase the number to 300 or 400 dealerships around the country.

King said the union would need to mobilize all of its 1 million active and retired members in the organizing push. About forty per cent of those workers are currently employed building vehicles. That’s the lowest active membership in the union’s history.

In 2009, when General Motors and Chrysler sought bankruptcy and Ford faced severe financial problems, the union agreed to let the companies pay newly hired workers about $15 per hour, about half the hourly wage of a longtime UAW worker. It also agreed to scrap the “jobs bank,” in which laid-off workers got most of their pay indefinitely for doing nothing.

This year’s contract talks with the domestic three are expected to center around enhanced profit sharing, as all three of the companies have said that they want to tie the workers success to the companies success.

In advance of those talks, Ford and General Motors have said they don’t plan any white collar raises this year, instead, promising bonuses if certain goals are met.

(Copyright 2011 WWJ Newsradio 950. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press Contributed To This Story)

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