UAW Membership Rises to Highest Level Since 2008

The United Auto Workers membership rose 0.5 percent to 382,513 last year, the union’s highest since 2008 and the third consecutive gain, as U.S. automakers added employees amid rising sales.

The UAW disclosed the 2012 figure, the largest for the union since its membership totaled 431,037 in 2008, in an e-mailed statement yesterday that cited a union filing with the U.S. Labor Department. The union added 1,794 members from 380,719 in 2011.

General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC gained sales in the U.S. last year when combined they earned $13.5 billion. While the UAW’s 2012 gain followed a 1.1 percent increase in 2011, the UAW’s total membership is still only about one-fourth its size in 1979, when it peaked at 1.5 million members.

“This is the third straight year of membership growth, which is a very positive sign for the union,” said Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor and industry group for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “They seem to have turned the corner after the previous five straight years of significant declines. It’s a tough battle to get back to where they once were, though.”

The UAW, based in Detroit, is seeking to rebuild membership by trying to organize workers at the U.S. factories of Volkswagen AG and Nissan Motor Co. The UAW previously failed to convince workers to join the union at Nissan as well as the U.S. factories of Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.

Union President

UAW President Bob King has said the union’s future depends on expanding membership by organizing workers at the U.S. factories of European and Asian automakers. He failed in a pledge to organize one of those plants in 2011.

Volkswagen has said it’s in exploratory talks concerning possible labor union representation at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory. IG Metall, the union representing most VW workers in Germany, has encouraged the company’s workers in Chattanooga to join the UAW.

“It’s ultimately for the workers to decide how and by whom they want to be represented,” Markus Schlesag, a Volkswagen spokesman, said in a telephone interview. The talks are still at an early stage, he said.

GM’s U.S. light-vehicle sales last year increased 3.7 percent while Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford’s gained 4.7 percent and Chrysler’s rose 21 percent. The increases for Detroit-based GM and Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler came three years after they reorganized in U.S.-backed bankruptcies.

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