United Auto Workers May Drop 'Auto' After VW Defeat

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union, long an institution in the American automotive industry, may no longer focus on automobile workers in the wake of its stunning rejection by Volkswagen workers last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Instead, the union may consider shifting more resources to areas where it has had success in organizing workers in the past few years, such as government, casinos, and higher education.

In 2009, the UAW was the big winner in the auto bailout, as the Obama administration made sure that its members were given their full pay, benefits, and pensions--protecting the UAW's interests ahead of those of secured creditors. 

However, its fortunes have declined as more auto companies have moved to right-to-work states, where workers do not have to join a union. In 2012, even Michigan became a right-to-work state.

In 2010, according to Brent Snavely of the Detroit Free Press, the UAW increased its membership for the first time since 2005, in large part by organizing at public universities, casinos, and non-auto-related workplaces. 

Meanwhile, under UAW president Bob King, the UAW has largely failed to organize workers in the new auto factories in the American South. That has forced King to seek members in a diverse range of economic fields.

"We are organizing in new areas, and we're organizing in a broad spectrum. I think that's good for any organization. Having multiple bases is better for the long term," King told Reuters last year. 

Snavely told American Public Media's Marketplace on Monday that the UAW may continue to try organizing workers in the South--or it may give up and move more aggressively to organize non-automotive workers.

The UAW's efforts in the gambling and education sectors are aided by the fact that many of those jobs are in highly unionized parts of the country. 

The result is that many new UAW members will be better at turning a card than a wrench. 

Photo: AP/Mark Duncan


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