Nov 29, 2023 - Economy

UAW launches organizing campaign at 13 non-unionized automakers

Illustration of a fist holding a wrench.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The UAW is launching a campaign to organize 13 non-unionized automakers as it bids to extend its momentum from a strike against the Detroit Three manufacturers.

Why it matters: After securing record contracts with the Detroit Three automakers, UAW president Shawn Fain promised to organize other American automotive operations.

  • "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," Fain said at the time.

Driving the news: The union announced Wednesday that it's targeting nearly 150,000 workers across 13 automakers: BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Lucid, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Rivian, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

  • At Toyota, employees at multiple U.S. Toyota plants are coordinating efforts with the UAW to unionize their operations, Axios has learned.

Zoom in: Workers have formed a voluntary organizing committee at Toyota's plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, in partnership with the UAW, according to sources familiar with the efforts who spoke to Axios.

  • The committee — whose establishment is the first step in building support for a union — is in direct discussions with UAW officials as part of a broader attempt to organize Toyota operations throughout the country.
  • At Toyota's plant in Princeton, Indiana, "some Toyota Indiana employees met with UAW representatives at the Vanderburgh County fairgrounds to discuss the possibility of unionization," Evansville, Indiana TV station WEHT reported.

Between the lines: Organizers are already collecting union authorization cards through a UAW-sanctioned website, where they're blasting corporate profits and executive compensation at non-unionized companies.

The other side: Soon after the UAW reached the last of three settlements with the Detroit Three in late October — deals that included an average of a 25% pay hike over the course of a 4.5 year contract — several companies announced pay increases for their workers, including Toyota, Honda and Hyundai.

  • Fain called it the "UAW bump," which he said stood for "u are welcome."
  • "Imagine what you could accomplish if you join the UAW and stand up and fight for yourselves," Fain said in a teaser video recently from the UAW.

By the numbers: As the world's largest automaker, Toyota has some 49,000 employees at nine factories in the U.S., including facilities in Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia and Indiana.

  • The crown jewel of the company's American footprint is the Georgetown, Kentucky factory, which has some 8,000 workers and is the largest Toyota assembly plant in the world.
  • "We've had a tremendous amount of calls coming in from Toyota" workers wanting to unionize, Tim Smith, director of UAW Region 8, recently told Axios. "The main thing that's going to help us is these record, historical contracts. Why wouldn't you want to organize?"

Toyota declined to comment.

Reality check: The UAW, which declined to comment for this story, has tried to organize plants in the South before and failed on multiple occasions.

  • Its targets have includes operations at Tesla, Nissan, Volkswagen and, in the mid-2000s, Toyota itself.
  • Republican politicians and anti-labor laws in the South have been an obstacle — though experts have noted that some Republicans were more welcoming to the UAW during its recent strike. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) were among the conservatives visiting UAW picket lines and voicing support for the workers.
  • "They're going to have to be prepared for tough fights, but I think it's a much greater possibility than there has been," Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, tells Axios.

The bottom line: The UAW is looking to parlay its recent momentum into wins on an even tougher playing field.

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