United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain expresses solidarity with striking workers during a rally at UAW Local 551 on Saturday, October 7, 2023, in Chicago.

John J. Kim | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

DETROIT – United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain wants to expand the union’s fight from Detroit automakers to Tesla, Toyota Motor and other non-union automakers in the United States

The outspoken leader plans to use record contracts won recently after contentious negotiations and U.S. labor strikes with General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler parent Stellantis to bolster struggling union organizing efforts elsewhere.

“We have created the threat of a good example, and now we will build on it,” Fain said Thursday evening when discussing the Stellantis tentative agreement. “We simply went on strike like never before and won a historic contract as a result. Now we will organize like we have never done before.”

This would greatly aid bargaining efforts and the union’s membership, which has been nearly halved from about 700,000 members in 2001 to 383,000 at the start of this year. UAW membership peaked at 1.5 million in 1979.

The UAW has failed to organize foreign-based automakers in the United States. Most recently, Volkswagen and Nissan Motor plants lacked the support needed for unionization. The UAW has previously discussed organizing the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, but that effort has not been successful.

It remains to be seen whether the latest efforts will resonate with other automakers, but Fain has vowed to go beyond the “Big Three” – Ford, GM and Stellantis – and expand into the “Big Five or Big Six” by his 4½ -year contracts with the Detroit automakers expire in April 2028.

The agreements include 25% wage increases that would push the top wage above $40 an hour, reinstatement of cost-of-living adjustments, enhanced profit-sharing payments and other significant wage, health and workplace benefits. The treaties still need to be ratified.

The union has already received significant interest from non-union automakers given the tentative agreements, Fain said. And last month he rejected comments from Ford Chairman Bill Ford who argued that the company and the union should work together to fight non-American automakers.

“Workers at Tesla, Toyota, Honda and others are not the enemy – they are the UAW members of the future,” Fain said.


Fain has particularly targeted Toyota in recent days.

The automaker confirmed plans to increase wages at its U.S. factories earlier this week. The new rates would result in manufacturing workers at top rates in Kentucky receiving a pay increase of about 9% to $34.80 an hour.

Fain called that raise Thursday “the UAW boost” and joked that UAW stands for “U Are Welcome” to join the union movement.

UAW President Shawn Fain marches with UAW members through downtown Detroit after a rally in support of United Auto Workers members striking the three major automakers on September 15, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan.

Bill Pugliano | Getty Images

“Toyota doesn’t give raises out of the goodness of its heart,” Fain said. “They could have just as easily increased wages a month ago or a year ago. They’ve done it now because the company knows we’re coming for them.”

Toyota, which employs 49,000 hourly and wage workers in the U.S., said that “the decision to unionize will ultimately be made by our team members.”

“Through honest, two-way communication about what’s happening within the company, we aim to promote positive sentiment that ultimately leads to increased productivity,” the company said in an emailed statement on Friday. “The collaboration has historically provided our team members with stable employment and income.”


So far, the UAW has been unable to garner enough support to force a union vote at Tesla plants, including the Fremont, California, plant where the union previously represented workers when it was a GM-Toyota joint venture .

Fain told Bloomberg News on Thursday that he believes Tesla’s organization and CEO Elon Musk’s takeover is “feasible.”

“We can beat anyone,” Fain told Bloomberg. “It will come down to the people who work for him deciding whether they want their fair share… or whether they want him to fly into space himself at their expense.”

Nevertheless, Musk has repeatedly clashed with union supporters in the past.

When some workers tried to form a union at the company’s Fremont factory in 2017 and 2018, Tesla paid a consulting firm called MWW PR to monitor employees in a Facebook group and on social media more broadly, such as CNBC previously reported.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and owner of X, arrives at the first AI Insight Forum at the Russell Building on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, September 13, 2023.

Tom Williams | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Tesla also terminated the employment of a union activist named Richard Ortiz in 2017. And in 2018, Musk said in a tweet: “Nothing is stopping the Tesla team at our auto plant from electing a union. They could do that if they wanted. But why should they pay the union dues and give up stock options for nothing?”

The tweet violated federal labor laws, the National Labor Relations Board later determined.

An administrative court ordered Tesla to reinstate Ortiz and order Musk to delete his tweet because it concluded it posed a threat to workers’ compensation. Tesla appealed the ruling and Musk’s offensive post remains on the social media platform, which Musk now owns, renamed X and serves as CTO and executive chairman.

In February, another group of organizers filed a complaint with the NLRB alleging that Tesla laid off more than 30 employees at its Buffalo factory in retaliation for a union push there by Tesla Workers United. Tesla called the workers’ claims false and said 4% of its Autopilot data labeling team in Buffalo had been laid off due to performance issues.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for enforcing civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, sued Tesla in September, alleging widespread racial harassment of black workers and retaliation against those who spoke out.

And at the end of October, just over 100 Tesla service employees in Sweden, members of the industrial union IF Metall, walked off their jobs for a short strike. Hundreds of mechanics and technicians in non-Tesla workshops also agreed not to repair cars from the electric vehicle manufacturers in solidarity. However, Tesla has so far refused to negotiate with IF Metall.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Source : www.cnbc.com

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