United Auto Workers Aiming to Unionize Tesla, VW, Nissan Plants

Line inspection workers check out a Volkswagen AG 2012 Passat at the company’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, U.S., on Wednesday, June 1, 2011. Volkswagen of America Inc. reported May sales of 30,100 vehicles, a 27.9 percent increase from a year earlier. (Photographer: Mark Elias/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The United Auto Workers union is escalating its organizing efforts with several automakers, including Tesla, and is using widely different strategies as it tries to translate ongoing campaigns into tangible wins, UAW leaders and other sources say.

While the union’s campaign to organize some automakers has appeared, at times, to stall in recent years, there are signs of renewed UAW activity in Mississippi with Nissan and in California with Tesla. Meanwhile, a fierce legal battle with Volkswagen rages on over the UAW’s right to represent skilled trades workers at the German automaker’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Taken together, the organizing efforts show a union that has refused to give up even after multiyear efforts that have yielded few big victories.

The UAW is mounting a multi-pronged, nationwide push now because it is concerned that the Trump administration will be far more anti-labor than the Obama administration once it gets a labor secretary in place and establishes an agenda, according to a person familiar with the union’s campaigns.

Andrew Puzder, Trump’s controversial nominee for labor secretary, withdrew his nomination on Wednesday, but it’s unlikely he will be replaced by a nominee that labor unions like.

UAW Treasurer Gary Casteel told the Free Press there has been a spike in interest for union representation at multiple auto plants operated by foreign automakers in recent months.

Casteel said he isn’t sure what is driving the interest but he has a few theories. Casteel said the increased attention on the loss of manufacturing jobs and on the North American Free Trade Agreement during the presidential campaign, along with President Donald Trump’s focus on U.S. jobs, has, in some ways, benefited the UAW.

“Here’s the deal: Everything he has done with the manufacturers has helped us. It’s growing our numbers,” said Casteel.

He also attributes the increased interest to the better contracts the UAW negotiated with the Detroit Three in 2015.

“What I’ve seen post-Big-Three-bargaining is that there was a real uptick in interest. People saw that the rank-and-file workers actually had a real voice,” Casteel said. “So, I don’t know if that is what caused it or not, but post-bargaining, we saw a doubling or tripling of interest” at foreign automakers’ plants.

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SOURCE: USA Today; Detroit Free Press, Brent Snavely

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