Labor Voices: We are stronger together

By Dennis Williams
In this 2017 photo, UAW president Dennis Williams calls for auto workers to demand their rights during a speech before thousands gathered at a pro-union rally near Nissan Motor Co.'s Canton, Miss., plant.

It has been a privilege to serve as the president of the UAW for the past four years.

Working together with the UAW’s dedicated officers, directors, assistant directors, staff, local union leaders and members, we have created a strong, stable and growing UAW. 

The Great Recession of the late 2000s created a perfect storm of challenges for the UAW, and membership fell to below 370,000 members by 2011. Operating dues also fell and we annually ran $30 million in the red. As a result, the strike and defense fund balance decreased significantly.

But we have rebounded and we are stronger now.

The UAW ended 2017 with its third straight year of fiscal surplus and the strike fund is healthier. We won organizing drives in many parts facilities and in higher education — most recently at Harvard and University of Washington — bringing UAW active membership to more than 430,000 members.

Big Three bargaining demonstrated how our democratic process works. In 2015, negotiations at GM, FCA and Ford resulted in the protection of health care benefits, improved retirement income, and addressed job security and job quality. These negotiations also resulted in record profit sharing bonuses for members at the Big Three. Most important, these contracts did away with the two-tiered system, negotiating a path to full pay and benefits. These historic gains set the tone for negotiations in all other sectors of the UAW.

The bottom line is that the UAW is in better shape than it was four years ago. And we are proud to continue the UAW tradition of working diligently, together, to improve the lives of men and women in the workplace and in the community.

None of the UAW’s collective bargaining gains were handed to us by employers. It takes the UAW membership, standing together as a union, to accomplish anything at the bargaining table. Each union member knows the future depends on breaking down walls and not avoiding tough conversations. We believe that no matter where you come from, who you are, what language you speak or what religion you practice – being in a union is about working men and women standing up for each other. That’s how it was in 1935 when the UAW was formed, and that’s how it is now.

There will always be opposition from anti-union bosses, politicians and media. Yet year after year, UAW members have risen above this and committed to fighting for worker rights in state capitals, in Washington, D.C., and in the workplace.

That’s because the UAW is about standing up for working men and women all over the country each and every day. We are committed to advancing the well-being of working men and women — both as workers on the job and as citizens in the community.

Together, over these last four years, the UAW has forged a positive path for the future of workers, their families, and the nation for generations to come.

I am very proud and honored to have been a part of it.

Dennis Williams is president of the United Auto Workers.