UAW announces drive to organize Toyota, Subaru and dozen other automakers

Keywords Auto Industry / Labor / Subaru / Toyota / UAW
  • Comments
  • Print

The United Auto Workers announced a drive to organize the U.S. factories of Toyota, Tesla, Subaru, Honda and the nation’s other non-unionized automakers, hoping to dramatically expand its membership after negotiating record contracts with Detroit’s Big Three.

The UAW unveiled a website where workers at 13 different companies can electronically sign union authorization cards in a first step toward attempting to organize their factories.

The UAW said workers at the non-unionized factories were helping organize the campaign, which will target 150,000 employees across the companies: BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Lucid, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Rivian, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

Toyota, Subaru and Honda all have major manufacturing operations in Indiana.

The UAW faces a tough battle. Its past efforts to organize the automakers have failed, partly because many of the factories are located in southern states, where local laws, politics and culture make it harder for unions to organize.

Still, union leaders are hoping to capitalize on the big pay increases the UAW won for workers in new contracts with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. Those contracts include wage increases of at least 25 percent over 4 1/2 years, as well as higher company contributions to retirement accounts and more paid time off.

The union said thousands of workers at the non-unionized companies have already contacted the UAW and signed cards in recent weeks, encouraged by the Detroit Three contracts. It declined to provide more specific figures.

In a video announcing the campaign, UAW President Shawn Fain made the same arguments he did to Big Three workers this year as he rallied them to strike: Companies are making big profits while workers fall behind, he said.

“You don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay your rent or feed your family while the company makes billions,” Fain said. “A better life is out there. It starts with you: UAW.”

Many of the non-unionized companies, including Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Volkswagen, have given their U.S. workers double-digit pay increases in recent weeks in what analysts call a clear attempt to ward off any unionization drive.

Asked about the UAW’s campaign Wednesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he thinks unions “try to create negativity in a company and create a sort of lords and peasants situation.” He said Tesla handsomely rewards its workers with stock options that have made some millionaires. If the company is eventually unionized, “it will be because we deserve it and we failed in some way,” Musk said during a webcast talk at a New York Times event, though he added that he has been open in the past to the idea of his workers voting on union representation.

The UAW’s new campaign website singles out Musk, saying he’s the richest man in the world, overseeing a company with booming sales. “The question is, will Tesla workers get their fair share? It’s time for Tesla workers to Stand Up and fight for more,” the website said.

In an emailed statement, Honda said it has built a successful U.S. business over 40 years partly by “maintaining competitive wages and benefits.”

“We do not believe an outside party would enhance the excellent employment experience of our associates, nor would it improve upon the outstanding track record of success and employment stability Honda manufacturing associates in America have achieved,” the statement said.

Nissan said it “respects the right of employees to determine who should represent their interests” but that it believes “our workplace is stronger without the involvement of a third party.”

Hyundai said that it “provides excellent wages and benefits” and that its U.S. workers “have not shown an interest in union representation.” Subaru said it is hiking wages in January and strives “to do the right thing” for employees.

Volkswagen and Rivian declined to comment. The other companies didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment or couldn’t be reached.

The campaign comes amid a growing movement of workplace activism, as workers across a variety of industries strike and agitate for better pay and benefits. Many have achieved big gains this year, including UPS drivers, Hollywood actors and writers, and health-care workers.

Those victories have piqued public interest in unions, but translating that into new members won’t be easy. Union membership has generally declined in recent decades, as the UAW itself shows: The union’s ranks have fallen sharply from a peak of about 1.5 million workers in the 1970s, to about 400,000 members today in a variety of industries, including health care and academia. About 150,000 members work for automakers.

Many of the automakers the UAW is targeting have heavily unionized workforces in their home countries and may not be intent on playing hardball, said Jake Rosenfeld, a sociology professor and labor expert at Washington University in St. Louis.

Still, their U.S. factories are located in states that can be hostile to unions, he said.

When the UAW tried to organize Volkswagen facilities in Tennessee, the company maintained a neutral stance on the campaign, but many local politicians voiced opposition, helping sway workers against the effort, Rosenfeld said.

In long-standing union states such as Michigan, “you hear story after story of GM workers whose grandfathers were in the union—it gets passed down,” he said. That history doesn’t exist in the South.

Getting workers to sign union authorization cards is typically the first step in organizing a workforce. Once 30 percent of eligible workers sign, they have a right by law to call an election for whether the workplace wants to unionize, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In some cases, employers will voluntarily recognize a union without a vote, once a majority of workers have signed cards.

The UAW is aiming for a high level of card-signing to bolster its campaign. Officials said that if an effort to organize hits the 30 percent threshold at a company, it will publicly announce an organizing committee at the automaker and continue pushing to recruit more workers. If it hits 50 percent, the union said it will organize a rally with Fain and workers at the factory. After 70 percent, the UAW will demand that the company recognize the union. If the company won’t, the union will ask the NLRB to hold an election.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

12 thoughts on “UAW announces drive to organize Toyota, Subaru and dozen other automakers

    1. Maybe. If…and only if…the UAW’s inevitable price increase doesn’t cause a crater in demand for the American lemons.

      For many years, American cars could survive on the notion that they were more affordable than their Japanese counterparts. Lower quality, of course (that was a given), but, even in the 2000s, it was reasonable for a 24-year-old on a <$30K salary to be able to buy or at least finance a new Ford Taurus, or Dodge Neon, or Chevy Impala.

      Now those are unaffordable to that same age/income bracket, and there's no evidence that the quality has improved. American cars still depreciate much faster than Japanese/German/Korean/Italian counterparts. A five-year-old Ford or GM with 40K miles is almost certainly going to have major problems within 18 months.

      Do you ever get nostalgic for the days when the average working-class person could still afford a modest car? Will those days ever return? Not given the current social and political priorities.

    2. Honda and Subaru have already announced wage increases. That wasn’t done in a vacuum.

      I’m still waiting on those pro-life politicians to deliver the wage and social changes required to enable the ability for either stay-at-home parenting or the ability to send a child to childcare without it being more expensive than a college education.

    3. Yes, Joe, and Honda and Subaru also offer stronger brands because of the perception that they are higher quality cars. I’m not sure your point. There’s already greater demand elasticity–they’re more resistant to shedding demand with price hikes–because they have a better reputation than GM or Ford. It wasn’t always this way, but since at least the mid/late 1990s, manufacturers like Ford, Pontiac, Chevrolet, and Chrysler have been the working-class alternative to Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Volvo, VW. Fundamentally, they still are, but working-class wages haven’t increased commensurate with the prices. And if it’s impossible to buy a no-frills Chevy for even $12K, are the unions only sabotaging their market? Should we anticipate another bailout in a few years? If the predictably corporate friendly Democrats are in power, we should count on it.

      Not sure what stay-at-home parenting and pro-life has to do with any of this, but aren’t our newly ethically aware corporations making unprecedented commitments to women to help pay for their abortions if they live in an anti-abortion state–up to and including transportation to an abortion hospital? So generous of them. They’ve decided that abortions are cheaper than maternity leave, daycare, or savings bonds to pay for that kid’s education.

      Don’t worry about college education. Trey Parker and Matt Stone were totally right. It just makes you stupid. At the way things are going, the working-class will be the rich ones in 10+ years because they actually have marketable skills, while the college educated imbeciles will still be saddled with huge debts for their worthless degrees…while being incapable of changing a tire or sewing a button.

    4. The point is, all automakers are going to face increased labor costs regardless of UAW affiliation.

    5. The same union should not be representing so many auto companies.
      Its a monopoly and should be regulated as such.

      The UAW had a very unfair advantage in the negotiating process with the
      big three.

  1. Joe B, live within your means for a (1) income family, or make more money to afford the childcare and lifestyle you wish to live.

    It is not government or taxpayer responsibility to subsidize your responsibilities.

    Open your own childcare facility and provide the service for free, that would be a solution to your dilemma and help other people at the same time! Very noble.

    1. Do you have the same attitude if you take the perspective of those future generations being needed to fund the healthcare and government benefits used by the elderly?

      Because if you tell the kids of today “tough nuts”, you’re likely to feel the impact someday in the future.

      It’s all interconnected when you think about it.

    2. I mean, Joe, we could always euthanize the geriatrics and the folks of working age who are unproductive due to injury. Like they do in Canada (MAID – Medical Assistance In Death)

    3. We already do in Indiana, Lauren … we steal the money intended for the care of the elderly and use it to build big shiny hospitals and pay large CEO salaries.

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In