United Auto Workers President Bob King said union members’ sacrifices allowed U.S. automakers to survive and that workers deserve to share in the industry’s new prosperity.
“All the sacrifices that our members made to turn these companies around were part of the process that’s really led to this amazing turnaround,” King said in a telephone interview yesterday. “We want our membership to share in a very meaningful way in the upside of these companies.”
King, 64, elected president of the union last June, will negotiate new contracts this year with General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC. While the accords don’t expire until September, King said he is already discussing with the companies how to reward workers. He has said UAW members each gave $7,000 to $30,000 in concessions to automakers since 2005.
GM, Ford and Chrysler yesterday reported their U.S. sales rose 13 percent last year. Their combined U.S. market share rose to 45.1 percent, from 44.2 percent, while Asian automakers lost ground, according to researcher Autodata Corp. of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. That came a year after GM and Chrysler went bankrupt and after Ford lost $30 billion from 2006 through 2008.
“We’ve expressed very strongly” the union’s view to GM, Ford and Chrysler, King said. “And they’re very interested in finding a way to make sure our members do share in the upside.”
A GM spokeswoman, Kimberly Carpenter, confirmed the company is talking with the UAW about how to compensate workers.
“We have had some preliminary discussions on the topic, but those discussions are on-going,” Carpenter said in an e-mailed statement. “We won’t be sharing any details externally until the discussions are finalized and we share the information with our workforce.”
Shawn Morgan, a spokeswoman for Chrysler, declined to comment.
“We believe all stakeholders benefit from the company’s success, as part of our One Ford plan,” John Stoll, a Ford spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “We typically don’t comment on the content of specific conversations we have with the UAW.”
To help the automakers survive, the union surrendered raises, bonuses and cost-of-living adjustments. The UAW also agreed to a two-tier wage system, in which new hires earn about $14 an hour, half the amount paid to senior production workers.
Ford rose 13 cents to $17.38 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, the highest closing price since May 31, 2002. GM gained 84 cents to $37.90, the highest close since public trading of the restructured company began Nov. 18.
King said he is interested in the UAW gaining representation on the automakers’ boards, though he declined to say if that is part of the upcoming negotiations.
“The more meaningful voice workers have in all aspects of their employment, the more successful the employer will be,” King said. “I wish we had legislation like Germany that guarantees worker representation on the board. I think the United States would be stronger economically if workers were on all boards in all industries.”
The UAW will highlight the role it played in the recovery of the U.S. auto industry in a campaign it is initiating this month to organize workers at the U.S. factories of Asian and European automakers, King said.
“We’re building on the success of the Big Three in saying, the UAW leadership and the UAW membership delivers the best quality, the best productivity and the best attendance record,” King said. “We’re really committed to the success of companies where we represent workers.”
The UAW has failed in previous attempts to organize workers at the U.S. factories of Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.
With a new, more cooperative approach, the UAW can “absolutely” organize one of the foreign automakers U.S. operations by the end of this year, King said.
The UAW is prepared “to take on a very public fight” if the foreign automakers don’t allow a fair union election, King said. That could include demonstrations at the automakers’ corporate headquarters in Japan, South Korea or Germany and at dealerships in the U.S.
“We’ll be very, very aggressive and willing to spend a lot of money to defend workers’ rights to organize,” King said.
The UAW has set aside $60 million from its strike fund to organize the U.S. operations of Asian and European automakers, King said.
Through organizing and hiring at the resurgent U.S. automakers, King said he hopes this year to reverse the UAW’s three-decade decline in membership. UAW membership has fallen to 355,000 members from a peak of 1.5 million in 1979.
“You’re going to see the UAW membership grow because the industry is coming back,” King said. “As it’s been a long decline, hopefully it will be a long incline.”