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New UAW members will build seats for Cadillac XT5 GMC Acadia
<p><strong>New UAW members will build seats for Cadillac XT5, GMC Acadia.</strong></p>

Magna Deal Gives UAW Second Victory in Southern U.S.

The Magna vote is the UAW&rsquo;s second successful organizing drive in the Southern U.S., where a half-dozen other non-union plants have held the UAW at bay with tactics ranging from comparable pay to threats to move work to Mexico or Thailand.

The UAW is claiming another victory in the Southern U.S., with union members voting nearly unanimously to approve a new contract with Magna Seating that supplies a General Motors plant in Spring Hill, TN.

“Members voted 192-1 (Wednesday, Aug. 24) to join the UAW,” says Ray Curry, director of UAW Region 8. “We welcome the new members, to the UAW family and look forward to begin bargaining with Magna.”

The 230 workers to be represented by UAW Local 1853 – as are hourly workers at the nearby GM assembly plant – build seats for the new Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia in a state-of-the art 122,500-sq.-ft. (11,360 sq.-m) facility near the Spring Hill plant.

It was not immediately revealed when contract negotiations would begin.

Magna spokesman Scott Worden, confirming last week’s vote, says both sides have confirmed their intention to negotiate a local collective agreement in good faith, with a view to maintaining Spring Hill seating’s global competitiveness as well as preserving Magna's entrepreneurial culture.

“This culture, along with the principles of Magna’s unique Employee’s Charter, has helped make us a global leader in the automotive industry for more than 50 years,” Worden says.

Only five of Canada-based Magna's 54 plants in the U.S. are unionized. Workers at three of Magna’s 50 Canadian plants are represented by the Unifor union under a framework originally negotiated in 2007 between Magna and Unifor’s predecessor, the Canadian Auto Workers. Unifor has organized a fourth Canadian plant not covered by the 2007 agreement.

The Magna vote is the UAW’s second successful organizing drive in the Southern U.S., but a half-dozen other companies have set up non-union plants in the region while holding the UAW at bay with tactics, ranging from comparable pay to threats to move work to Mexico or Thailand.

In December, however, electricians, millwrights and skilled-trades workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, TN, plant voted 104-48 to join the UAW, marking the first successful organizing drive by the union at a light-vehicle plant operated solely by a global automaker in the U.S.

VW’s human-resources managers had refused to negotiate with the UAW over representing the remaining 1,300 hourly workers at Chattanooga, insisting instead on a single bargaining unit, but the December vote by skilled-maintenance workers was authorized and supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

Organizer: Deals Nurturing Pro-UAW Sentiment

Before last week’s vote in Spring Hill, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel, who has led the union’s organizing efforts in the Southeast, said interest in the union has grown dramatically since last fall when it reached new labor agreements with workers at GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler U.S. plants outside the Southern U.S., where there is less anti-union sentiment.

“The level of interest and number of requests (for organizers) has probably quadrupled since we signed the contracts last fall,” Casteel says.

The union’s contract with the Detroit Three automakers included pay increases, protected health care benefits and establishment of a new pay system that gradually raises new employees’ salaries to match the wages paid to more senior workers.

Asian and European automakers operating in South originally paid wages comparable to those earned by UAW members when the plants first opened in the 1990s. Wages, however, generally have slipped as the transplants have adopted tiered wage scales and broadened the use of temporary workers.

Real wages in manufacturing fell 4.4% between 2003 and 2013, according to the National Employment Law Project. By comparison, real wages in auto manufacturing, excluding the parts sector, which pays lower wages, dropped 21% as real wages after adjustments for inflation dropped from $31.45 per hour to $24.83 in 2013.

“It's a management problem now. You have to decide where to put staff,” adds Casteel, who has also has served as the UAW’s liaison with European automakers as the union continues to attempt to organize non-skilled-trades workers at Volkswagen’s  plant in Tennessee and the Nissan plant in Canton, MS.

The key for the union is to prioritize which campaigns have the most potential and represent the best use of UAW’s time and effort, Casteel says. “We don’t have unlimited resources.”

Casteel declines to single out any of the UAWs’s potential targets for further unionization campaigns across the South. However, he says the union remains committed to the organizing drives at the VW plant in Chattanooga, and at the Nissan plant in Canton.

“The UAW thanks Magna for providing a workplace that truly fosters a harmonious environment,” union official Curry says.

“This is an exciting time for Magna members and the UAW is looking forward to working with Magna and members in the plant to create a modern, efficient quality environment for their customers,” said Curry.


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