UAW Wage Gains Filter Over to Non-Union Workers

UAW President Shawn Fain says the key to recruiting non-union auto workers is to win good contracts for its own members, which he believes the union has done with its new contracts with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

Joseph Szczesny

November 28, 2023

3 Min Read
VW Chattanooga
Skilled tradespeople at VW Chattanooga joined UAW, but other production workers rejected union three times by 2019.

Volkswagen of America and Nissan are joining the cluster of non-union automakers offering their employees double-digit pay raises in the wake of contract settlements negotiated by the UAW in the wake of the union’s so-called “Stand-up Strike.”

Both companies are no strangers to tangling with the UAW, fighting off organizing efforts within the past decade. VW, with the help of Tennessee’s Republican political establishment, blocked a UAW organizing drive by fewer than 100 votes in a 2019 vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. Nissan defeated a 2017 organizing effort in Canton, MS, by a 2-to-1 margin in a drive undermined by corruption charges which were then haunting the union.

Earlier this year, Nissan says it defeated an International Association of Machinists effort to organize tool-and-die makers employed at the company’s manufacturing plant in Smyrna, TN, in a vote supervised by the NLRB.

The defeats at VW and Nissan, where the UAW faced hostility from the Republican political establishment in both states and the local business community as well as the automakers,  underscore the challenges the union will face as it attempts to organize non-union workers both in the assembly plants run by foreign automakers and in new battery ventures across the South.

UAW President Shawn Fain, who is vowing to recruit non-union auto workers, says the key to organizing the Southern plants is to win good contracts for its own members, which he believes the union has done with its new contracts with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

However, foreign automakers – first at Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Subaru, and now VW and Nissan – are taking up the challenge by offering raises and a faster transition to top wages.

VW is raising the pay of production team members at its Chattanooga, TN, assembly plant by 11%, which matches the raises negotiated by the UAW for the union’s members at Detroit’s three automakers.

The increase is effective starting in December and a compressed wage progression timeline begins in February, reducing the time it takes to reach the top of the wage scale.

“Volkswagen of America notes it annually evaluates compensation for our production team members at the end of the year to ensure we continue to offer a competitive and robust compensation package designed to attract and motivate employees who make our daily operations possible at the plant,” according to a company statement.

Nissan says it will boost wages by 10% effective Jan. 8, eliminating tiers and adding new holidays to the corporate calendar, including Juneteenth.  It will also increase the top-out pay rates for Nissan maintenance and tool & die technicians by 10%.

“These increases are a result of the hard work and dedication of Nissan employees who are producing some of the best vehicles in our company's history,” Nissan says in a statement.

Nissan says it has added Juneteenth and Veterans Day as paid company holidays, increasing the total number of paid holidays to 16 and increased paid parental leave, adding eight weeks of paid parental leave – for a total of 16 available weeks – and including paid leave for both parents.

While Fain says non-union auto workers are getting a “UAW bump,” Nissan says over the past three years it has increased the scale of wages, including top-out rates several times at all three manufacturing sites, by 12% to 18% and cut in half the time it takes to reach top-out rates, halving the time to four years, from eight.

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