UAW President Bob King answers reporters questions. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
United Auto Workers President Bob King confirmed the union’s international committee will propose to increase dues by 25 percent — an extra half hour from the current two hours of pay per month. It is the first dues hike since the late 1960s, and the money will be directed into the union strike fund.
At one point, the fund was $1 billion but today it stands at just over $600 million. King wants to see the fund returned to $1 billion, to send a message to companies to bargain in good faith.
“The strike fund really serves as a deterrent,” King told the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, held in conjunction with the Detroit auto show. “I think our members will overwhelming support this.”
Furthermore, he said, organizing workers at foreign auto plants in the United States isn’t cheap. “Those campaigns take a lot of money,” he said.
The dues increase must be approved by UAW members in June, when they meet to elect a new president. King said 2013 membership figures, released in a couple months, will show incremental growth in the union. The UAW’s membership plummeted over the last three decades.
Membership rose by less than 1 percent in 2012 to 382,513, up about 1,500 members over 2011, and the third straight year membership has risen. In its annual report filed with the U.S. Labor Department, the union said it has boosted membership by about 10 percent since 2009. But it is still down more than a third since 2005. The UAW had 1.53 million members in 1979.
King said he is committed to organizing the entire auto assembly sector in the United States, warning that auto jobs may become low-wage unless they are successful.
“The UAW is committed to organizing the entire auto assembly industry in the U.S. so that auto jobs remain middle class,” King said. “Auto jobs should not consist of low-wage temporary labor working under unsafe conditions. But without unions, that is the direction they are going.”
King has been working to establish a German-style “works council” at Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant. The UAW also is attempting to organize Nissan Motor Co. workers in Mississippi. Supporters handed out organizing information and literature to automotive journalists early this week, as they entered Cobo Center for the auto show press days.
“Nissan is moving in a direction where a majority of the production workers will not be regular employees at all, but temps” King said. “These temporary workers, or perma-temps since their positions last years, lack job security of any kind. ... The use of temp labor is a grave threat to the ability of working people to join the middle class.”
King also denounced the growing inequality in the U.S. as a new “Gilded Age” and said unions will have a “major role in rebuilding our middle class.”
The Detroit labor leader, whose four-year term will end in June, said “a culture of greed has enabled corporate executives to take outsized compensation, while workers’ wages stagnate or decline.”
Tens of thousands of auto jobs, he noted, have gone to Mexico where people are paid “poverty level wages” and he said it is in the long-term interest of U.S. workers to see higher wages by auto workers in Mexico.
King declined to say if the UAW will seek an increase in entry-level auto wages rise in 2015, and downplayed the suggestion that there is tension between older, higher-paid UAW workers and entry level workers who make less. He noted that both share equally in profit sharing, and said older workers gave up raises in the last contract so lower-paid workers could get a raise.