UAW's King ups pressure on foreign auto plants in U.S.
David Shepardson and Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

United Auto Workers President Bob King on Wednesday stepped up his
rhetoric demanding that foreign automakers agree to avoid tactics that
pressure workers to reject unions.

King, who spoke at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit,
threatened to "expose" companies that don't agree to fair bargaining
as "human rights violators," but stopped short of calling for a
possible boycott.


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"I would not want to be a company that was branded as a human rights
violator," King said, saying the damage from such a label could total
hundreds of millions of dollars. "That would be a bad business

The UAW has set aside $60 million from its strike fund to work toward
organizing so-called "transplants" — U.S. auto plants owned by foreign
automakers — and has vowed to conduct global protests if they don't
agree to fair union elections, as defined by the union.

The UAW released a set of principles last week calling on companies to
allow unions the same access to workers as management, to avoid
threats and disavow threats from allies, and to not disparage unions.
The UAW demands that employers agree to speedy resolutions of disputes
and quickly reach a first contract. "The single dominant factor in a
worker's decision is fear," King said. Current labor laws and the
process laid out, he said, "is fatally, hopelessly flawed."

Foreign-based automakers have said the decision is up to their
workers. But they have traditionally opposed the UAW's organizing
efforts, which have been unsuccessful.

"They spend millions of dollars trying to keep the UAW out of their
facilities," King said of the automakers, arguing that it would be
cheaper for them to work with the union.

"We just have to convince them that we're not the Evil Empire that
they think that we were at one point," King said. "The UAW has learned
from the past."

He said he was having private meetings with foreign automakers to talk
about the union's ability to organize workers, but declined to
identify them.

Honda Motor Co., the first Japanese automaker to build a U.S. assembly
plant, responded coolly. "Honda has had no dialogue with the UAW, and
has no interest in a discussion with them," the automaker said in a
statement Wednesday.

One of Toyota Motor Corp's senior U.S. manufacturing executives, Steve
St. Angelo, said it wasn't up to the company to decide. "That's up to
the workers."

But Toyota doesn't see the need for a union as an interlocutor between
line workers and management. "We provide competitive wages and
benefits, and we have open communications throughout the company," St.
Angelo said Monday.

He noted that Toyota, unlike other automakers, did not lay off workers
— it calls them team members — at its plants during the recent
industry downturn. Instead, they were kept on, given training or other
work, at a cost of "hundreds of millions of dollars," St. Angelo said.

The UAW has not succeeded in organizing an Asian auto plant in the
United States, although some factories built and previously run by one
of Detroit's automakers, such as the Mazda/Ford Flat Rock joint
venture, and the shuttered Toyota-General Motors production venture in
Fremont, Calif., have employed union workers.

Harley Shaiken, a labor expert and professor at the University of
California, Berkeley, called the renewed effort to organize
transplants "pivotal to the UAW and central to Bob King's project."

"The transplants' share has grown so significant that they're
increasingly setting the direction and the wages for the industry,"
Shaiken said.

With the U.S. auto industry shrinking dramatically, UAW membership
fell to a new post-World War II low in 2009, dropping by nearly 76,000
to 355,191 members. The union had 1.53 million members at its peak in

Union leaders have been unsuccessful in winning passage of a bill in
Congress, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to

Current rules are "outdated and ineffective," King said. "American
labor law today simply does not provide a fair framework for union
elections. Companies can intimidate, threaten and coerce employees
almost with total immunity."

Shaiken said King's preference is to work with the foreign-based automakers.

"He's saying, 'Look, let's sit down and talk about it. But if you're
not willing to do this, we're not just going to walk away. We'll use
every means at our disposal.'"King said foreign automakers could be
forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to combat global
protests by the UAW. "Wouldn't it be a lot more cost-effective to work
with the UAW, give workers their democratic right to decide if they
want to be in a union?" he asked.

King didn't lay out a timetable for when the UAW would start protests
if foreign automakers don't agree to fair bargaining.

"As long as workers aren't threatened or harassed and they get to make
a fair decision, if they vote not to come to the UAW, we're going to
shake the employer's hand," King said.

He called protests last year at California dealerships selling foreign
brands "a minor taste of what we will do if workers' democratic rights
are violated."

Executives at most of the foreign automakers responded that the
decision wasn't theirs to make. "Tennessee is a right-to-work state,"
said Frank Fischer, the head of Volkswagen AG's new plant in
Chattanooga. "Our employees will decide for themselves whether they'd
like the union to come in or not."

Honda said its U.S. manufacturing operations had performed well for
three decades "based on fundamental principles of teamwork, mutual
respect and open communication.

"This team-oriented approach has produced world-class products of the
highest quality for our customers and unprecedented job security for
our associates and their families."

It said the workers, or associates, had previously "spoken loudly and
clearly by choosing to reject UAW outreach efforts."

King said the UAW is simply "asking for … a fair democratic process.
We're not bad-mouthing corporations. We're saying, 'You can help make
this company a better company.' … We want to restart our relationships
with these companies."

He criticized foreign automakers for having high percentages of
temporary workers, saying some foreign companies had 20 percent of
workers under that classification.

>From The Detroit News:’s-King-ups-pressure-on-foreign-auto-plants-in-U.S.#ixzz1Avg05yzQ

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