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UAW membership hits lowest point since Great Recession

Breana Noble, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

The United Auto Workers at the end of 2023 had its fewest members since the Great Recession, despite record contracts with the Detroit Three automakers, a frenzy of labor action nationwide last year and a vocal organizing push.

The Detroit-based union recorded 370,239 members at the end of December, according to a U.S. Labor Department filing submitted Thursday. The loss of nearly 13,000 workers was a 3.3% decrease from 2022's 383,003 active members, erasing the more than 10,000 members it added that year. It also was the least since 2009, when the UAW had 355,191 members.

A message was left with a representative for the union Thursday evening.

It wasn't immediately clear why there was a decrease, though right-to-work legislation, retirements and layoffs could be contributors, experts said.

In a one-sentence statement last year after the union added members, the newly elected President Shawn Fain had said: "We're just getting started."

To that end, the UAW has undertaken a $40 million campaign to organize employees of foreign automakers manufacturing in the United States, electric vehicle producers like Tesla Inc. and EV battery companies. If successful, the effort could more than double the 146,000 UAW autoworker members for whom the UAW negotiated new contracts with the Detroit Three last fall that resulted in 27% compounded wage increases, the reinstatement of cost-of-living adjustments, improvements to retirement contributions and more.


Fain has emphasized the need to organize transplant, EV and battery workers in order to make greater strides around earnings and benefits for autoworkers like pensions.

The first test of the effort will come in mid-April when 4,300 workers at Volkswagen AG's plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will vote on whether to unionize. Two past attempts were close, and the union says a "supermajority" of workers have signed union authorization cards.

With union membership down, that "continues to increase the stakes for Shawn Fain in these votes," said Marc Robinson, principal of consultancy MSR Strategy and a former General Motors Co. internal consultant who was involved in labor negotiations. "It's bad news for the UAW. It probably does increase the pressure if the votes are unsuccessful to say, 'Hey, we can’t spend our declining membership dues on a futile effort to organize.'"

But Art Wheaton — an automotive industry specialist at Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations School who has done training for the UAW, GM and Ford Motor Co. — says the membership total isn't too different from what has been seen in the past.


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