UAW Moves to Organize Transplants

In the wake of its new contract with the Detroit Three automakers, the UAW is moving aggressively to organize non-union plants of transplant automakers.

Joseph Szczesny

December 12, 2023

4 Min Read
UAW pickets 9-22-23 auburn hills mi (getty)
UAW members picket in September outside Stellantis' North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI.Getty Images

Non-union automakers for years have used lawyers and consultants to beat back their employees’ efforts to organize unions that would push for higher wages and win more favorable working conditions.

But the UAW is attempting to turn the tables on the employers as it moves to organize workers in non-union plants in a high-profile test of efforts to recruit new members in the wake of its successful stand-up strikes against the Detroit Three that led to historically high wages.

“No single company is going to be the target. They’re all going to be the target,” says UAW President Shawn Fain.

In a Facebook Live appearance aimed at non-union workers, Fain also emphasizes the union will move aggressively to help workers protect their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. To drive home Fain’s point, the UAW is filing unfair labor practices charges against Honda, Hyundai and Volkswagen of America where hundreds of workers have signed cards asking for union representation.

Fain says he visited last week with Toyota workers in Georgetown, KY, and plans to visit other non-union plants around the southeastern U.S.

In the wake of the union’s latest contract negotiation, Toyota says it will be giving employees a 9% raise, Fain notes. But Georgetown workers told him they got only a 25-cent hourly raise from the Japanese automaker, which in the past decade has made more money than Detroit’s three automakers combined, according to Fain.

As Toyota’s management gave the workers the hourly raise of 25 cents back in 2022, they also reduced  health care benefits, says Fain

Dozens of Volkswagen employees have signed cards since the UAW publicized that it had collected more than 1,000 signatures among VW workers in less than a week, according to Fain, noting membership requests from non-union workers are steadily growing since the union launched targeted strikes against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis back in September.

“Workers everywhere are showing they won’t be bought off by crumbs,” says Fain, noting several non-union companies have announced a series of pay increases.

Fain, however, adds the union is preparing to fight an anti-union communications blitz that he says is now underway. “These companies are more than willing to break the law if it means protecting their bottom line,” he says.

The UAW says Honda workers report being targeted and surveilled by management for pro-union activity at the company’s Indiana Auto Plant in Greensburg, IN. Hundreds of workers at the facility have signed union cards and are organizing to join the UAW.

The union has filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the NLRB.

“We are filing an unfair labor practice charge against Honda because of management illegally telling us to remove union stickers from our hats, and for basically threatening us with write-ups,” says Honda worker Josh Cupit.  “It’s essentially to show Honda that we know what our rights are and that they’re not going to bully us and we’re not going to back down from them.”

Honda says in a statement emailed to Wards, “Honda encourages our associates to engage and get information on this issue. We have not and would not interfere with our associates’ right to engage in activity supporting or opposing the UAW.”

The UAW also cites anti-union harassment by Volkswagen at its Chattanooga, TN, assembly complex. “On Thursday, Dec. 7, at an early morning shift change, security guards stopped a group of Volkswagen union supporters from distributing flyers to their coworkers at Gate 3,” the union notes in its complaint.

“We’ve done handbilling at that gate before and the company has never done anything like this,” said Dave Gleeson, a production team member in finish and repair. “We were just getting ready to hand out flyers and security came up and told us we couldn’t."

At Hyundai’s Montgomery, AL, plant, management has unlawfully confiscated, destroyed and prohibited pro-union materials in non-work areas during non-work times, the UAW claims.

Beverly McCall, a team member in engine assembly at the Hyundai plant, was in the parking lot passing out union leaflets on non-work time when a manager told her to stop. “The manager came up and told me, ‘You can’t be out here doing that,’” says McCall. “I just kept right on doing what I was doing.”

Tim Cripple, another team member in engine assembly, was in a break room and had a few union leaflets on the table in front of him. “A group leader came in and called team relations on the phone,” says Cripple. “They said, ‘You can’t have them in here’ and the group leader threw them in the trash. At the same time, they have someone from the company sitting in the cafeteria handing out anti-union t-shirts and flyers.”

Hyundai officials say they are still reviewing and finalizing their reply to the UAW’s charges.

“These companies are breaking the law in an attempt to get autoworkers to sit down and shut up instead of fighting for their fair share,” Fain says. “But these workers are showing management that they won’t be intimidated out of their right to speak up and organize for a better life. From Honda to Hyundai to Volkswagen and beyond, we’ve got their back.”

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