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UAW commits $40M to organizing non-union auto, battery workers by 2026

Breana Noble, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

The United Auto Workers said Wednesday it'll spend $40 million through 2026 toward organizing non-union auto and battery workers in a decision underscoring its commitment to expanding its membership and influence.

The Detroit-based union's governing International Executive Board voted Tuesday to commit the funds. This is the first time the UAW has provided a dollar amount for its organizing efforts after it announced its campaign in November to double its roughly 146,000 autoworker members at the Detroit Three by unionizing employees at 14 automakers from Volkswagen AG to Tesla Inc.

The funding will encompass those efforts as well as at battery plants, particularly in the South, according to the news release. That could include Ford Motor Co.'s joint venture facilities with SK On Co. Ltd. in Tennessee and Kentucky. The Ford master agreement negotiated last fall didn't outline a pathway toward unionization at those BlueOval SK locations like contracts with General Motors Co. and Stellantis NV did for their respective joint ventures.

"In the next few years, the electric vehicle battery industry is slated to add tens of thousands of jobs across the country, and new standards are being set as the industry comes online," the union said in a news release. "These jobs will supplement, and in some cases largely replace, existing powertrain jobs in the auto industry. Through a massive new organizing effort, workers will fight to maintain and raise the standard in the emerging battery industry."

BlueOval SK last week kicked off a local hiring roadshow to provide information to applicants interested in jobs at the $5.6 billion battery plant in Stanton, Tennessee, slated to open next year.

"Employees at BlueOval SK battery plants in Tennessee and Kentucky will be able to choose whether they organize," spokesperson Mallory Cooke said in a statement.

The UAW ended 2022 with $1.045 billion in net assets, down 3.8% from where it stood at the end of 2021. The UAW is required to report annual financials to the U.S. Labor Department by the end of March. The $40 million commitment would come from union dues and specifically from what is known as the "Article 16 fund."

It's a massive commitment, said Art Wheaton, an automotive industry specialist at Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations School. In the past, the union also has transferred money from other areas like the Strike and Defense Fund to support organizing or even raised dues. The strike fund prior to the UAW's 46-day targeted strike in the fall against the Detroit Three was around $800 million.

 

“Forty million dollars is saying we’re not just doing this at the drop of a hat,” Wheaton said. “We’re willing to pay to do this the right way.”

More than 10,000 non-union autoworkers across the 14 automakers have signed authorization cards giving permission to the UAW to represent them. Earlier this month, the union said a majority of workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant had signed authorization cards. It was its first plant since launching the campaign to hit the milestone that would prompt the union to hold a rally in support of the organizing drive. The union says once a plant has 70% of workers sign authorization cards, it will demand recognition or else pursue a National Labor Relations Board election.

The union also formally announced drives at Hyundai Motor Co.'s plant in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Mercedes-Benz Group's plant in Vance, Alabama, after 30% of workers at each site signed authorization cards.

After the UAW negotiated record contracts with the Detroit Three through April 2028 with 27% compounded wage increases, cost-of-living adjustments, billions of dollars in investments, a three-year progression to the top wage and increased retirement and pension contributions, a number of competitors announced improved pay and benefits, too.

Hyundai in November announced a new wage structure that would increase hourly wages 25% by 2028. It says it directly and indirectly employs 114,000 Americans and plans to invest more than $12 billion in Alabama and Georgia.

"Hyundai provides excellent wages and benefits and maintains a strong culture of safety, quality and continuous improvement in all our operations," spokesperson Michael Stewart said in a statement "For Hyundai’s operations in the U.S., the decision to be represented by a union is up to our team members. During our 18-year manufacturing history in the U.S., our teams have benefited from direct engagement and communications with management."

In a statement sent by spokesperson Andrea Berg, Mercedes-Benz noted its 25-year history in Alabama: "Central to our success is our positive team culture that includes an open-door policy. MBUSI has a proven record of competitively compensating Team Members and providing many additional benefits. We believe open and direct communication with our Team Members is the best path forward to ensure continued success."


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