News Analysis

SAN ANTONIO — The Toyota plant that will be built and open for production here in approximately one year deserves special attention from the labor movement and the auto workers union.

The United Auto Workers organized nearly all of the industry in the 1930s, but has seen major slippage since imports began eating away at the U.S auto market in the 1960s. Given that Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, two of this country’s “Big Three” auto producers, reported a drop in annual new car purchases, Toyota’s plans to build full-sized pickups at a non-union plant in Texas may be a particularly difficult sign of the times. The UAW has organized very few Asian-owned car plants, with the exception of Mitsubishi, which has been reported in big financial trouble.

The Texas car market, and particularly the giant pickup market, has been Big Three country even while other parts of the country have embraced high-quality Asian products. Asian brands were reported to have increased U.S. market share and posted a combined 7 percent rise in U.S. sales last month. The traditional Big Three saw sales fall 1 percent.

In early March, Toyota managers said they were anticipating 10,000 applications for 2,000 positions, including office workers. Toyota did not reveal the number of applications actually submitted, but a Dallas paper put the number at 100,000. That could make it relatively simple for potential union members to be culled out.

Sadly, telephone information reports no UAW office in San Antonio. Community groups, who might be of great help in an organizing drive, report no contacts.

In 2003, Ford Motor Co. was replaced by Toyota as the world’s second largest automaker. Given that Toyota plans to have 15 percent of the global market share by 2010, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that it could replace GM as number one.

Critics of the Big Three, including union members, have been saying for years that the extra-large, high-profit margin autos produced by the Big Three will eventually get their comeuppance from smaller, simpler foreign automobiles. Environmentalists were particularly miffed when the Big Three, followed by the union, successfully opposed legislation that would have clamped down on auto emissions.

It should be noted that although Toyota owes a significant amount of its sales and popularity to its relatively environmentally friendly standards, the Tundra pickups to be produced in 2006 will not be hybrids by a long shot.

San Antonians have very little experience with any car manufacturer or auto union, but they care about trends in wages and benefits. Consequently, it makes sense that they will back the United Auto Workers when an organizing drive gets started.