33 Senators demand 13 non-union auto firms stop union-busting
United Auto Workers members march through downtown Detroit, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. | Paul Sancya/AP

DETROIT —As the Auto Workers embark on their massive campaign to organize the 150,000 non-union autoworkers in the U.S., 33 senators—one of every three—demand workers’ bosses, several of them intensely anti-worker, pledge company neutrality during its drive.

Whether the owners of the 13 firms which UAW targets, particularly notoriously anti-union Tesla owner Elon Musk, one of the world’s richest people, who has vowed never to let unions in, will listen is open to question.

UAW’s organizing drive at the non-union auto companies is important to workers and the union movement as a whole. The bosses deliberately located most of the non-union plants, and their parts plants, in the worker-hostile South, which is also the fastest-growing region of the U.S.

Unions know that without organizing success there, the movement will continue to lose overall density—and accompanying political clout—especially in the private sector.

The lawmakers warned that unless the non-union auto firms banned union-busting and agreed to stay neutral, their eligibility for federal support for the transition to electric vehicles could be in doubt.

Neutrality, their letter said, is “the bare minimum standard” the firms must pledge to.

Follows big UAW wins

After UAW’s successful “Stand Up” campaign to win large raises – putting a huge dent in 22 years of lagging pay—and many givebacks from the Detroit 3 auto firms, workers at the non-union shops noticed and thousands have contacted the UAW about organizing their plants, union President Shawn Fain previously reported.

“Every autoworker in this country deserves their fair share of the auto industry’s record profits, whether at the Big Three or the non-union 13,” Fain said in applauding the lawmakers’ letter. The solons, Fain said, “stand with workers who are standing up for economic justice on the job.

“It’s time for the auto companies to stop breaking the law and take their boot off the neck of the American autoworker, whether they’re at Volkswagen, Toyota, Tesla, or any other corporation doing business in this country.”

After the UAW’s big wins at the Detroit 3—Ford, GM, and Stellantis, formerly FiatChrysler—several of the non-union firms responded by almost matching UAW’s pay hike wins for its 150,000 members at those three unionized companies. The non-union shops didn’t match the other benefits UAW won, though.

Other firms responded with instances of labor law-breaking, formally called unfair labor practices (ULP). The senators detailed some of the ULPs in writing to the corporate honchos. UAW filed ULP complaints with the National Labor Relations Board’s regional offices. All that corporate union-busting must stop, the senators said

“At numerous automakers, management has acted illegally to block unionization efforts,” the senators wrote to CEOs of Tesla–Musk–Rivian, Lucid, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

“These retaliatory actions are hostile to workers’ rights and must not be repeated if further organizing efforts are made by these companies’ workers. We therefore urge you all to commit to implementation of a neutrality agreement at your manufacturing plants.

“Your commitment to neutrality would ensure management does not pressure workers into voting against unionization or delaying the election process. A neutrality agreement is the bare minimum standard manufacturers should meet in respecting workers’ rights, especially as companies receive and benefit from federal funds related to the electric vehicle transition.

“UAW’s securing of a just transition ensures workers at electric vehicle battery plants can earn the same high wages other UAW members earn. It further demonstrates the electric vehicle transition can and must create good-paying jobs,” the lawmakers wrote.

“It is time now for non-union automakers across the United States to demonstrate that same commitment by pledging not to interfere in any organizing activities occurring at its plants through the implementation of neutrality agreements.”

There was no immediate reaction from the targeted non-union firms. Both Michigan senators, both California senators, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, organized the letter.

Other signers included both Illinois senators, both Pennsylvania senators, both Connecticut senators, both Minnesota senators, and both Vermonters, notably Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt. He chairs the Senate Labor Committee chairman and is the Senate’s longest and strongest worker and union backer.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.