VW Rejection Shows UAW Share of U.S. Carmaking Slumping

The United Auto Workers’ failure to organize employees at an assembly plant in Tennessee operated by Germany’s Volkswagen AG underscores how the union’s members are building a smaller share of vehicles made in the U.S.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows that the number of cars and trucks produced by UAW workers declined to 54 percent of all vehicles in 2013 from 86 percent 15 years ago, as overseas automakers build more vehicles in the U.S.

UAW workers assembled 5.91 million of the 10.9 million cars and trucks made in the U.S. last year, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1999, union workers accounted for 10.8 million of 12.6 million vehicles, according to data from the center and LMC Automotive.

Organizing the U.S. factories of Asian and European automakers is critical to the future of the union, where membership has fallen 75 percent since 1979. The UAW has twice failed to win votes to represent workers at Nissan Motor Co.’s Smyrna, Tennessee, factory.

The declining share weakens a union’s hand at the bargaining table. In 1965, about 95 percent of vehicles made in the U.S. were assembled by UAW labor, Art Wheaton, a workplace and industry education expert with Cornell University, said.

“If you’ve got 95 percent, then life is a little easier because everyone is paying a similar rate, a similar situation,” Wheaton said in a telephone interview.

Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant voted 712-626 last week against joining the UAW after an organizing campaign that attracted opposition from elected officials, such as Senator Bob Corker and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, both Republicans.

As “union density decreases” so does the ability to negotiate, UAW said on its website. “In order to win back the sacrifices that we’ve had to make, we need to reorganize industries where we represent members,” the Detroit-based UAW said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.