King: UAW building alliances to bolster organizing drive at transplants

King: UAW building alliances to bolster organizing drive at transplants
David Barkholz
Automotive News | March 22, 2011 – 9:32 am EST
UPDATED: 3/22/11 5:11 p.m. ET

DETROIT — UAW President Bob King told delegates at a bargaining convention today that the union is building alliances with other unions and groups to strengthen its organizing drive at Asian and German automakers operating in the United States.

Immediately after this week’s three-day special bargaining convention here, King said he will visit leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the South to discuss his vision for the campaign and for strengthening the American middle class by rebuilding the labor movement.

After that, he will travel to Germany to meet with union leaders there.

The plan is to put global pressure on automakers that do not allow for a free and fair recruiting drive of workers.

“We are building a broad coalition,” King said during his keynote address to hundreds of convention delegates this morning.

King said the UAW’s efforts to recruit workers at transplant automakers would not be delayed by upcoming contract negotiations with Detroit automakers.

“Everything is moving forward,” he said.

UAW delegates are meeting to determine priorities for this year’s labor talks with the Detroit 3. The convention is the unofficial start of bargaining. Formal talks open after July 4. The master four-year contracts between Detroit’s three automakers and the UAW expire in September.

Courting the transplants

As the union readies for contract talks, King said he would like to unionize at least one of the Asian and German transplants this year. Those factories are largely in right-to-work states in the South.

The UAW has sent letters to the transplant automakers asking executives to permit free and fair organizing drives at the plants. King has declined to share the responses.

The transplants say their workers are treated well, fairly compensated and enjoy job security. Unlike the Detroit 3, Toyota, Honda and others did not lay off workers during the recent automotive downturn.

King said the only way to protect hourly wages and benefits at the Detroit 3 is to organize the transplants and bring them into the same contract pattern used at GM, Ford and Chrysler.

After granting concessions in 2007 and 2009, UAW-represented auto workers earn about the same wages and benefits as nonunion Toyota and Honda workers — or about $55 an hour. But the Detroit 3’s 120,000 UAW-represented hourly workers have more generous defined pensions and retiree health-care benefits.

King said organizing the transplants would let the UAW raise wages and benefits uniformly across the industry.

Restoring concessions to take time

He said the UAW in this year’s contract talks would seek to restore some of the wages and benefits given up in 2007 and 2009. King has pegged the value of those concessions at $7,000 to $30,000 per worker.

But workers shouldn’t expect to immediately win back the concessions granted to help U.S. automakers during the financial crisis and recession.

“We did what we had to do to save the companies,” King told the bargaining convention. “It will take time to win back what we’ve given up.”

He said the union dislikes so-called Tier 2 wages and benefits that pay entry-level UAW workers roughly half that of traditional workers. That concession was negotiated during the 2007 talks.

King said he would like to bring Tier 2 compensation levels closer to traditional wages during this year’s talks.

King said he also believes the hundreds of temporary workers at Detroit 3 plants should be able to receive permanent status within 18 months of hiring in.

He said it was a travesty that Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally could receive more than $50 million in stock awards this year when Ford temporaries are not earning a decent living.

“I think Alan Mulally has been a great CEO, and I don’t think any human being deserves that kind of money,” King told reporters after today’s program concluded.

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