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UAW lost 18% of members in 2009

March 30, 2010

UAW lost 18% of members in 2009

Union ranks fall by 76,000, hitting post-World War II low

Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — United Auto Workers membership fell last year to a post-World War II low, amid heavy losses in the auto sector.

The number of UAW members in 2009 dropped nearly 76,000, to 355,191, according to the union’s annual report filed Monday with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The 18 percent loss reflects decisions by General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC last year to shed thousands of workers as both automakers underwent bankruptcy reorganization.

With last year’s slide, membership in the Detroit-based union has tumbled by nearly half since 2001, when it had 701,818 members.

Analysts don’t agree on what the future holds for membership in the UAW, which had 1.53 million members at its peak in 1979.

David Cole, chairman of Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, said the union "may have finally hit the bottom."

Cole said some new jobs will be restored because the industry is staffed to sell just 10 million vehicles and demand is expected to rise, by some accounts, to 11 million.

"But they will never get back to where they were — simply because there aren’t that many jobs in the industry," he said.

Michigan State University labor professor John Beck isn’t convinced the worst is over.

"I’m not sure the UAW has hit the bottom," Beck said. "It’s not clear when the domestic industry will rebound, and especially the parts suppliers."

The UAW’s largest local, he said, is a Michigan unit, representing state workers — a segment vulnerable to erosion, as states tighten budgets.

"It is still a daunting time for the UAW," said Beck, noting that legislation to make organizing easier is stuck in Congress.

Still a political force

Despite its declining numbers, the UAW remains a political force.

It helped, for example, to insert a provision in the federal health care bill that will aid groups that take over retiree health care. The union negotiated with the Treasury Department to take equity stakes in health care trust funds in GM and Chrysler in exchange for taking over complete responsibility for hourly retiree health care.

Through a spokeswoman, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger declined to comment Monday on the membership numbers.

The union argues that a rolling 12-month average is a better indicator of its overall membership; last year, the UAW averaged about 390,000 members.

The UAW has sought to bolster its ranks by organizing new members in recent years, but gains among teaching assistants, auto dealership employees, health care workers and casino dealers have not offset heavy losses in the auto sector.

And the union has not succeeded in organizing foreign automakers’ U.S. operations, which often have opened in right-to-work states that don’t require employees to join.

It’s also been battered by the decline in the auto supplier industry.

Plant closure adds to slide

The UAW’s membership will decline by another nearly 4,600 workers next week alone, when the 26-year-old New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a joint venture between Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Corp., closes.

But the union seems poised to score an organizing victory: Fisker Automotive, which received a $529 million low-cost government loan last fall, plans to retool a shuttered GM plant in Delaware and said it would "partner" with the union.

In addition to members, the UAW lost about 50 locals last year, from about 800 to 750, as plants closed and it consolidated locals to cut costs.

Pay for the union’s 18 officers averaged $130,583 in 2009 — about the same as 2008. Gettelfinger was awarded an annual raise of just $630, to $177,750.

The UAW’s assets fell slightly last year, to $1.13 billion from $1.2 billion in 2008.

Last year’s receipts dropped by $38 million to $277 million.

As a result, the union cut costs.

It spent $9.7 million on lobbying and political activities in 2009, compared with $10.6 million in 2008. And it reduced union administration costs from $32.4 million to $26.9 million.

Earlier this year, the UAW put its famed $28 million lakeside retreat, the Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center, on the market.

The facility, on 1,000 acres near Onaway, lost an estimated $23 million in the past five years and the UAW was forced to borrow to keep it afloat, according to filings with the U.S. Labor Department.

While UAW membership was down, membership of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group of unions that includes the UAW, rose in 2009 to 11.4 million, up from 11 million in 2008.

Last year, the percentage of American workers belonging to a union fell slightly to 12.3 percent — down from 12.4 percent in 2008, and from one in five U.S. workers in 1983.

Because of heavy job losses in Michigan, the number of union members fell from 771,000 in 2008 to 710,000 in 2009.

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