Nov 29 2023
In an unprecedented move, autoworkers at more than a dozen non-union automakers have announced simultaneous campaigns across the country to join the UAW. Thousands of non-union autoworkers are signing cards at the new UAW webpage, UAW.org/join, and are publicly organizing to join the UAW. The organizing drive will cover nearly 150,000 autoworkers across thirteen automakers: BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Lucid, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Rivian, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.
One of the strongest campaigns is at Toyota’s Georgetown, Ky., assembly complex, where 7,800 workers make the company’s iconic Camry and highly profitable RAV 4 and Lexus ES. Toyota announced it was raising pay just after UAW members won record contracts at the Big Three. But Jeff Allen, a 29-year team member at Georgetown who’s had two work-related surgeries, says the raise won’t dissuade workers from organizing.
“We’ve lost so much since I started here, and the raise won’t make up for that,” said Allen. “It won’t make up for the health benefits we’ve lost, it won’t make up for the wear and tear on our bodies. We still build a quality vehicle. People take pride in that, but morale is at an all-time low. They can give you a raise today and jack up your health benefits tomorrow. A union contract is the only way to win what’s fair.”
Many of the non-union automakers use a mix of full-time, temporary and contract employees to divide the workforce and depress wages. At Hyundai’s assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., Kissy Cox worked for eight years in the paint shop as an employee of Glovis, a contractor that operates inside the plant. Cox made $9.25 an hour when she started at Glovis in 2014. She didn’t become a full-time Hyundai employee until July 2022.
“Hyundai would be so much better with a union,” said Cox, who is now a production line worker. “I’m on workers’ comp right now because I just had carpal tunnel surgery. In my area, we struggle to keep a full staff because so many people are out injured. Being in the union, having a real say for safer jobs, it would be a better way of life for all of us.”
In a new video, UAW President Shawn Fain details the shared issues facing all autoworkers, from the Big Three (Ford, GM, Stellantis), to the German Three (Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW), to the Japanese & Korean Six (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru, Mazda), to the EV Sector (Tesla, Rivian, Lucid).
“To all the autoworkers out there working without the benefits of a union: now it’s your turn,” says Fain in the video. “Since we began our Stand Up Strike, the response from autoworkers at non-union companies has been overwhelming. Workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially in the South, are reaching out to join our movement and to join the UAW. So go to uaw.org/join. The money is there. The time is right. And the answer is simple. You don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. 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.”
Fearing a surge of enthusiasm for organizing following the UAW’s historic victories at the Big Three, many non-union automakers have attempted to lower autoworkers’ expectations by raising pay and shortening wage progressions. Still, non-union autoworkers lag far behind UAW autoworkers in wages, benefits, and rights on the job.
“We saw what the UAW members won and it started us thinking that we as workers are worth a lot more than our company currently values us at,” said Isaac Meadows, a team member at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn., who started nine months ago on the assembly line. “Like most auto plants, we shut down in the summer and winter, but we’re not paid for that. We have to use our PTO [paid-time-off]. For me, that means I have just two days of PTO to use for the rest of the year. Even top-out guys aren’t getting much more than that. We’re not trying to break the bank, but VW can do better and change this from a good job to a great career.”
The tight labor market since the pandemic is driving workers to demand more from the non-union automakers. “The company is having trouble hiring people,” said Jeremy Kimbrell, a measurement machine operator at the Mercedes-Benz Tuscaloosa assembly plant in Alabama. “They introduced two tiers here, so they’re having such a hard time keeping the new workers. It’s just a revolving door. A whole lot of people who never talked union before, they know we have to stand up. They’re saying give me a card to sign.”
Lori Paton started working at the electric vehicle (EV) startup Rivian at its Bloomington, Ill., assembly plant in October 2022. “The company likes to tell us we’re making the plane while flying it, and that explains a lot about the problems we have,” said Paton, a team member in the Chassis 3 group. “We have all sorts of safety issues. Turnover is terrible. Every group has a story about a new employee who did not make it to first break. The lack of safety, the low pay, the forced overtime, there are so many reasons we need to be union.”
The unprecedented effort to publicly organize the entire non-union auto sector at once marks a departure with past organizing efforts. The new aggressive strategy is reflective of a new era of working-class leverage and workplace organizing.
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