According to a Detroit News article, the United Auto Workers has set their sites on non-unionized import automakers with plants in the US (known as transplants) -- and the first target for organization could be Toyota.
Before I give you my take, I should explain that I consider myself a liberal Democrat and pro-union. In situations where corporations don't provide fair compensation and/or healthy working conditions for their employees, it's important for those employees to organize and press their advantage as a group.
But from what I can see, that's not a problem at the transplants -- and I don't think this effort will serve the workers so much as the union itself. Another Detroit News article cites dropping union membership, down to under 400,000, from a high of over 1.5 million in 1979 due largely to downsizing at the Big Three. The article quotes UAW president Bob King as saying, "If we don't organize these transnationals, I don't think there's a long-term future for the UAW."
But do the workers at Toyota's Camry plant in Kentucky (or other foreign plants on US soil) really need the UAW? I know just enough about this to be dangerous, and from what I understand, compensation at these plants does tend to be lower than UAW wages -- but the plant employees don't seem to be leaving in droves to find better-paying work. And the labor-vs-management viewpoint that the UAW fosters doesn't fit in well with the spirit of cooperation that helped the Japanese automakers lead the quality revolution.
We can't fairly say that unionization would harm quality. Corollas and Tacomas were built at a UAW-organized factory in Fremont, California, and quality was not a problem, although when the NUMMI partnership was ended by GM, Toyota was quick to shutter the plant. Labor costs have traditionally been a major handicap for domestic automakers, and if labor costs were to increase due to unionization, one wonders if foreign automakers would reconsider their decision to build cars here. Domestic automakers are closing plants here in the US; it's the Japanese, Koreans and Germans that are building new ones.
Toyota, for their part, maintains that the decision to unionize rests with the employees -- and so far, they have chosen not to. Mr. King says we'll learn which automaker they plan to target in the next ninety days.
What are your thoughts? -- Aaron Gold