Uaw Pushes to Organize Toyota Plant in Kentucky

By: Mike Bartley

The United Auto Workers (UAW) made a big new push to organize Toyota's plant in Kentucky. The union is trying to capitalize on fears of meager pay, on outsourcing of jobs and on the automaker's treatment of injured workers.

The venture of the union heightened this month as private equity firm Cerberus confirmed its acquisition of DCX's Chrysler Group. The said acquisition raised fears that the UAW will be unable to restraint the slashing of job and benefits at a privately owned Chrysler.

The Chrysler deal has underscored the union's reduced clout as membership has decreased along with jobs at the Detroit automakers. The UAW has never succeeded in organizing a foreign auto assembly plant in the United States. But Toyota's emergence as the world's largest automaker has added urgency to this venture. The union will enter new contract negotiations this summer without any workers from the Japanese automaker. "We've got a lot of work to do," said Charles Lite, 41, a member of the organizing group, speaking of the effort at Toyota. "No more mistakes."

The UAW and the workers have captured leaked business documents from the Japanese automaker. The documents delve on Toyota's plan to put a lid on manufacturing wages in the United States. At a new factory being built in Mississippi, the automaker intends to pay workers about $20 an hour in a region where many people earn $12 to $13 an hour. The average Toyota worker at Georgetown makes about $25 an hour.

Toyota officials said that the increasing pressures of the auto business have caused the company to reevaluate worker's compensation policies, a matter that has to be negotiated with the union at UAW-represented plants. At present, the fast-rising Japanese automaker is one of auto industry's most profitable companies. And its officials believe that the success is very much dependent on controlling costs.

"We think the historic American approach to things is to run full blast, pay out as high as you can in the short term while times are good, and then when times go bust, you lay people off, you shut plants and you destroy communities," said Pete Gritton, a Toyota vice president who oversees human resources at the company's plant. "Toyota does not want to do that."

Gritton said that adjusting pay scales would ultimately translate into stable employment for American autoworkers. He said Toyota is seeking to maintain cost-effective growth in the United States so it can compete with low-wage countries such as China, Mexico and Brazil. "We are the only major manufacturer of automobiles that is trying to grow and expand its business in the U.S. right now," Gritton added. "Everybody else is trying to collapse and shrink and send it to somewhere else for lower costs."

Some Toyota workers are amenable to the plan. But others are disappointed, saying that autoworkers are losing ground. Workers expect quick and smooth flow of negotiations likened to the performance. The issues are critical and they need timely action.

Car Focus
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Car Focus
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles