UAW: Toyota under consideration as organizing target

January 20, 2011

UAW: Toyota under consideration as organizing target

Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — In its quest to organize the U.S. employees of foreign automakers, the United Auto Workers union said Wednesday it is planning broad-based protests against companies that don’t agree to the union’s principles for fair bargaining.The union, whose U.S. membership dropped precipitously with the decline of the domestic auto industry, intends to hire a former top Obama campaign adviser with Internet expertise to help mobilize its effort.

The UAW says it intends to call protests at dealerships around the world, at the headquarters of foreign automakers, and even on Wall Street.

At a conference in Washington, UAW President Bob King said the union hasn’t picked a target automaker for its organizing efforts. But he acknowledged that Toyota Motor Corp. is among those under consideration.

He said a target would be set within 90 days.

“This is about whether we survive as a meaningful force in America or not,” King said of the UAW.

The union is urging foreign automakers to agree to a set of 11 “fair bargaining” principles that will allow it to try to organize workers at plants in the United States without threats or intimidation.

So far, none has agreed.

During visits to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, more than 1,000 union members and retirees urged lawmakers to back the principles.

Richard Bensinger, director of the UAW’s organizing department, told the conference that when the union picks its protest target, it will let the whole world know.

“We’ll be on in D.C. We’ll be at Geneva at the (International Monetary Fund) and I think we’ll be on Wall Street,” Bensinger told hundreds of UAW members and retirees.

“Investors might want to know who the focus of this is going to be. There will be actions at corporate headquarters, at auto shows.”

Noting many automakers advertise at Super Bowls or have large events, Bensinger said the UAW will follow suit. “We’re going to have some big events at their big events,” he said.

Thousands to be recruited

The UAW, Bensinger said, will recruit supporters from “college campuses around the world. We will be rebranding the companies to inform students at every campus at every country. … We will recruit thousands — not hundreds — but thousands of activists, retirees and members globally in the United States and Canada, but also in Brazil, China and in other countries.”

UAW Secretary Treasurer Dennis Williams said the union will recruit people from “Korea, from Japan, from India and around the globe to assist us and we will train them to go back to their countries and join us in this fight — regardless of (whether) it’s Hyundai, or it’s Toyota or whomever it may be.”

Neither auto parts suppliers nor dealers across the globe will be spared, Bensinger said. “It will be wherever their cars are sold,” he said.

The union will have a strategy to target parts suppliers because “the majority of jobs are in the suppliers,” Bensinger said.

Augmenting old-style union protests with new media, the UAW plans to hire Andrew Bleeker as a consultant to the organizing effort.

Bleeker was the new media director for President Barack Obama’s inaugural committee in 2008 and directed Internet advertising for Obama for America as head of the campaign’s online marketing.

Toyota leaves it to workers

“We will be all over the Internet in all sorts of creative ways,” Bensinger said.

Toyota maintains the question of unionization is up to its workers, not the company.

But the Japanese automaker doesn’t see the need for a union as a go-between.

“We provide competitive wages and benefits, and we have open communications throughout the company,” Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s North American quality chief, said last week.

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