After Big Three gains, UAW wants to organize foreign-owned U.S. auto plants next
UAW President Shawn Fain, Nov. 9, 2023, in Belvidere, Il. | Paul Beaty / AP

Following on from its major success in securing much-improved contracts with the Big Three auto manufacturers (GM, Ford, and Stellantis), the United Autoworkers is now set to launch simultaneous organizing campaigns across the country to bring over 150,000 new members.

UAW says the Big Three dispute has encouraged many workers in non-union plants to join the union.

The companies to be targeted include Tesla, which is in a hardening battle with the Swedish union IF Metall over union organizing and collective bargaining, and in Germany, where the company is refusing to recognize the IG Metall union at its Brandenburg plant.

Other companies to be targeted are Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Rivian, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Subaru, Mazda, Lucid, and Volvo.

UAW points out that these companies recognize unions in their home countries and elsewhere but steadfastly refuse to recognize unions in the U.S.

Bosses have used well-established anti-union tactics and union-busting consultants at many of these plants. So even when the majority of workers sign union cards and the union uses the process for recognition via the National Labor Relations Board, organizers have sometimes been defeated by members voting not to unionize, fearing employer threats of job losses, plant closures, political pressure, and alleged threats against workers of demotion, harassment, and demotion.

UAW President Shawn Fain said: “To all the auto workers out there working without the benefits of a union, now it’s your turn,” urging auto workers to sign electronic union cards seeking union representation.

“The money is there. The time is right,” he added. “You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay your rent or feed your family while the company makes billions. A better life is out there.”

UAW outlined its tactics: If 30% of workers at a non-union plant sign cards seeking to join, it would make that public. If 50% of workers seek to join, UAW would hold a rally with Fain in attendance to support the organizing campaign. At 70% and with an organizing committee in place, the UAW would seek recognition or demand a union representation vote.

The campaign comes as several foreign automakers have announced significant pay and conditions improvements in response to the UAW Big Three campaign. Those companies are making the moves in an effort to keep UAW out of their plants.

President Joe Biden said he supported UAW’s effort to unionize other carmakers. “I want this type of contract for all auto workers, and I have a feeling the UAW has a plan for that,” he said at an event with Fain.

In recent times, UAW has been unsuccessful in organizing sites operated by foreign automakers. Efforts to organize Nissan plants in Mississippi and Tennessee failed after massive anti-union campaigns by  the company’s U.S. management, however.

Two attempts to organize Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., failed even though the campaigns were run with help of the German IG Metall union, which embedded its union officials to help.

UAW is making Tesla and Toyota top priorities, Fain said.

“Elon Musk, who owns Tesla, is the richest man in the world, with a net worth of $230 billion. U.S. production has more than doubled since 2020, and Tesla’s sales are booming. The question is, will Tesla workers get their fair share?”

UAW says one of its strongest campaigns will be at Toyota’s Georgetown plant in Kentucky, which has 7,800 workers making the Camry, RAV4, and Lexus models.

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Tony Burke
Tony Burke

Tony Burke is President of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions; a former assistant general secretary of Unite; Trade Union co-ordinator for the Morning Star newspaper; and chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom. He is a contributing editor of Left Foot Forward blogging on trade, international issues, and workers’ and union rights. As well as LFF, he contributes to the Morning Star, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom website, and his own Power In A Union site.