Not United Auto Workers

Posted on March 31, 2011 by

Half the cars manufactured in the United States are now made nonunion in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee where Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen have – or are building – plants.

The UAW hasn’t successfully organized  in the south (exception:  now extinct Saturn in Tennessee) but hasn’t stopped trying. 

The problem is that these are high-wage jobs even though they fall short of UAW rates. 

It makes perfect sense for the union to focus on nonunion auto workers but it’s an uphill battle. While foreign car companies from Germany, Japan and South Korea accommodate unions back home, they fiercely resist them in the U.S.

And compared to what most American assembly-line workers earn now-a-days, these southern workers are riding high.

Of course, they’re only making their $40 – $45 an hour in wages and benefits because of the United Auto Workers hard-fought and heroic battles generations ago.

Why would a major union target such relatively high-wage work (where union success is possible but unlikely) when there are tens of millions of Americans toiling at less than $20 an hour with no benefits?

The UAW, with a current membership in the auto industry below 190,000, is in a desperate struggle to survive (thirty years ago, there were more than a million and a half union auto workers in the U.S.).  Failing to unionize in the south, the UAW will continue to lose bargaining leverage with what’s left of the “big three:” Ford, GM and Chrysler.

There is a deeply-rooted structural problem in the American labor movement which keeps most unions in a constant battle to stop market-share erosion.  Multi-union organizing strategies give way to individual unions desperate to replace members lost through unemployment and globalization. (Union mergers have enabled some unions to carry on but these consolidations don’t always work out).

This is just one of many reasons why workers in the underpaid private-sector – where the nonunion rate is above 90 percent – almost never see a union organizer.

Comments (7)


  1. Joe Uehlein says:

    Current UAW membership is around 375,000. Maybe the lower figure in Lou;s blog-post is for membership in the auto industry?

  2. T Santora says:

    Similar story with my union, CWA. While we have radically diversified our membership base through mergers since our founding by telephone workers, we too have been struggling to organize non-union members in our industries – to little effect. We had a net loss of over 35,000 members in the last two years alone.

    Just look at the wireless telephone industry as an example. We’ve been plugging away at generating leads at T-Mobile for over 10 years with no success. We finally may have a real shot at organizing 30-40,000 T-Mobile workers in the US with the recently announced acquisition of that company by AT&T. But, I must point out; this will only be possible because of our bargained-for neutrality agreement with AT&T. That’s the real reason we’re supporting the acquistion – all the other bullshit aside. Guess what contract is up one year from now. AT&T.

    After our merger with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), we’ve had some organizing wins, but none have kept pace with the declines in the industry. In fact, we lost all our members at Northwest when non-union Delta gobbled them up and forced us into an election. And, a similar battle is underway due to the merger of United (AFA) and Continental (IAM). Now we are fighting each other for the same shrinking membership!

    Predictably, our printing, television, and newspaper sectors are also on the ropes. Each of these industries has been in a death spiral for years. Internet blogging (no disrespect), desk top publishing, and streaming video are all job killers for our incumbent membership base. What to do? How do we organize individual entrepenaurs with not contractual rights into unions?

    Looks like its time to look for another merger partner. Any declining unions out there in need of sharing the pain?

    Seriously, who is NOT in decline these days? Maybe we need a union for the growing, angry working class. Oh yeah, they’ve already formed the Tea Party. They will soon be in decline too, no doubt.

    The vast numbers of underpaid and unorganized workers in this country are in desperate need. Unless the Labor Movement can act collectively to “organize without borders” (and egos), the end of the movement as we know it is just around the corner.

  3. Glen Arnodo says:

    The reason why the labor movement — can’t — won’t –organize is a tough one. What I don’t understand is why unions have not mounted a massive private sector organizing campaign in WI to see if we can capitalize on the upsurge there. I just read today that the Sheetmetal Workers is mounting some sort of campaign but to my knowledge, they are the only union doing so.

  4. Salvador Sanchez says:

    These are HUGE opportunities that must be capitalized. Most of us who deeply care for the labor movement see our enthusiasm for labor constantly being evaporated into a cynical disillusion. Okay, Lou how do we create the conditions that would ignite a sense of urgency for organizing more workers? I am expecting a reply….

  5. [...] fact, half the autos now manufactured in the United States are made nonunion in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee where Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, Nissan, [...]

  6. Dave of IAFF says:

    I have been pro-union for as long as I can remember but organization is way down. Why? The demands of the unions vs. the economy. Even the democrats don’t have our backs, which Is reciculous! Do you think it’s bad now? Unions, take concessions now,or unions will be more belittled when the economy really tanks! I’d love to buy a union made car, but anything made USA is more important to me right now because I’m investing in my country as a whole and not just a localized area.

Leave a Reply