Why The Auto Workers Union Is Coming For Toyota And Tesla Next

Why The Auto Workers Union Is Coming For Toyota And Tesla Next

The United Auto Workers union wants to take the momentum it gained from its strike against the Big Three automakers and start unionization campaigns at other automakers like Toyota and Tesla that use non-union U.S. factories, according to Reuters.

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In the past, the union has attempted to organize non-union U.S. auto factories, most owned by legacy Asian and European automakers in the southern U.S. where “right to work” labor laws make it optional for workers to pay union dues. It’s a shit system. Now, to stay competitive with the Big Three — and to keep unionization at bay — some automakers like Toyota and Honda are evaluating and giving raises to workers. I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s mostly being done to stop unionization.

“They could have just as easily raised wages a month ago or a year ago,” [UAW President Shawn] Fain said of Toyota. “They did it now because the company knows we’re coming for ‘em.”

He said the UAW’s new contracts were so good they had even led to nonunion auto workers getting raises.

“Terrified auto executives across the country are rushing to give their own employees raises in the hopes of fending off the UAW,” Fain added. “Toyota’s future won’t be determined in the boardrooms. It’ll be determined on the plant floor.”

Toyota has asserted that working directly with its plant employees has “provided a history of stable employment and income for its employees” and added that the “decision to unionize is ultimately made by our employees.”

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Fain has some lofty goals for the union he leads, saying, “When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be with the Big Three, but with the Big Five or Big Six.” Those companies would likely include Toyota and Tesla, among others.

It isn’t too far-fetched an idea. Workers at non-union plants have apparently been reaching out to the UAW, according to Reuters.

“If (Toyota workers) come calling, which they have, we’re going to educate them and be there for them,” [Tim] Smith [UAW Region 8 director] told Reuters.

UAW staff are keeping track of the calls, many from Toyota’s sprawling assembly operation in Georgetown, Kentucky. The Toyota complex is not far from one of the UAW’s largest local unions, which represents Ford’s Kentucky Truck and Louisville Assembly plants.

Smith said it was important workers consider the total wages and benefits and not just the wage rate.

It may be a bit of an uphill battle for the union, though. Recently, it tried and failed to win enough support from workers at the Tesla Fremont factory in California to even hold an organization vote, according to Reuters. In the past, the Fremont factory was a UAW shop when it was owned jointly by GM and Toyota. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is against unions.

“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted,” Musk Tweeted in 2018. “But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?”

God, this guy stinks, and the National Labor Relations Board seems to agree in part. The Board ruled that the tweet violated laws prohibiting management threats against workers for supporting unionization, Reuters says.

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It makes a lot of sense for non-union automakers to keep it that way. They may pay similar wages to their UAW-represented counterparts, but they have lower overall labor costs because they pay less for health and retirement benefits, according to Reuters. They also happen to use more temporary workers, who are paid less.

The result is that average hourly labor costs in total at foreign automakers are $55 an hour, compared with $64 an hour under the old UAW contract, Ford sources estimated ahead of the new contract agreements. U.S. hourly labor costs at Tesla are estimated at $45 to $50.

The gaps will get wider, assuming UAW workers at the Detroit Three ratify agreements that call for increasing pay for veteran workers by 25%, restoring cost-of-living allowances and boosting pay for temporary workers by as much as 150%.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for the UAW, but one thing is certain after this latest round of contract talks with the Big Three: Shawn Fain doesn’t fuck around.