UAW membership posts first gain in 6 years on auto industry rebound

UAW membership posts first gain in 6 years on auto industry rebound

Automotive News | March 31, 2011 – 2:56 pm EST

DETROIT (Bloomberg) — The United Auto Workers’ membership rose 6 percent to 376,612 last year, the first gain in six years as U.S. automakers began hiring amid a recovery in sales.

The UAW’s active ranks increased by 21,421 members from 355,191 in 2009, according to a union filing today with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The total is about one quarter of the 1.5 million members the union had at its peak in 1979.

General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC cut their U.S. hourly workforces by 63 percent in the past decade, according to the Center for Automotive Research.

The UAW may gain an additional 8,000 jobs at the U.S. automakers this year, according to the center, which is based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The gain won’t be large enough to reverse a slide the union has experienced for three decades, said Sean McAlinden, the researcher’s chief economist. In 2001, the UAW had 701,818 members, 86 percent more than last year.

“The last two years represents a cyclical trough in employment for the UAW that is part of a long-run secular decline,” McAlinden said. “The UAW has shrunk so much in the auto industry that it can no longer dictate the pattern of wages and benefits across much of the industry.”

Restoring the UAW’s power depends on organizing U.S. factories operated by Asian and German automakers such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Daimler AG, UAW President Bob King said last week at the union’s bargaining convention. King has said he expects to organize at least one nonunion automaker this year.

“My heart aches,” King told convention delegates in Detroit. “We don’t have the justice our members deserve. We let unionization fall so far that we don’t have the power to do pattern bargaining.”

Contract negotiations

King, who was elected president of the union in June, will negotiate new contracts this year with GM, Ford and Chrysler.

King, 64, has said workers must be rewarded for the $7,000 to $30,000 in concessions they each gave since 2005 to help Detroit automakers survive. The contracts expire in September.

The concessions included surrendering raises, bonuses and cost-of-living adjustments as well as agreeing to a two-tier wage system in which new hires earn about $14 an hour, half the amount paid to senior production workers.

Those concessions helped the U.S. automakers lower the cost of wages and benefits to about $57 an hour, close to that of Toyota’s workers in Kentucky.

GM, Ford and Chrysler still have higher labor costs than South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co., which gives workers at its Alabama factory wages and benefits valued at $40 an hour to $45 an hour, McAlinden said.

“Wage and benefit levels are now dictated to the UAW by the competition,” McAlinden said.

GM, which reorganized in bankruptcy in 2009, earned $6.17 billion last year.

Ford, the only major U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy, had net income of $6.56 billion last year, the most since 1999. Chrysler, which also reorganized in 2009, posted a net loss of $652 million last year and forecast net income of as much as $500 million this year.

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