UAW hits the gas on organizing effort at Honda, Hyundai, and Volkswagen
Signs for and against unionization are in a roundabout along Volkswagen Drive in front of the Volkswagen plant, June 14, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. | Erin O. Smith / Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP

DETROIT—The United Auto Workers are stepping up their organizing drives at U.S. plants of foreign automakers Honda in Greensburg, Ind., Hyundai in Montgomery, Ala., and Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn., despite bosses’ labor law-breaking and use of union-busters.

“At the non-union automakers, it’s a dictatorship,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a Facebook video. “The moment you walk into that plant, whatever the boss says, goes.

“They decide your wage, they decide your benefits, they decide your hours—and they decide whether you have a job the next day. Non-union autoworkers aren’t stupid…UAW family and non-union autoworkers, times have changed.”

The times began changing when workers at foreign-owned automakers noticed UAW’s success in its rolling strike campaign earlier this year against the Detroit automakers. The foreign automakers employ approximately 150,000 U.S. workers, and UAW wants to organize them all.

The union won back losses in pay its members had suffered for more than two decades, pension and health care improvements, and a faster progression to top-line pay—along with the elimination of the hated two-tier pay system.

Some bosses at foreign-owned automakers scrambled to match the raises, though not the other gains. Others didn’t, and their workers noticed.

“We started noticing something during the summer,” Fain elaborated. “Workers coming in by ones and twos to ask about the union” and the numbers kept growing. “By the time the strike occurred, thousands of messages were coming in, asking about signing union cards.

“This wasn’t us, the UAW, going out to try to organize these non-union workers. This was these workers banging down our door to join our UAW family…Once autoworkers make a good wage with benefits, companies won’t be able to compete by pitting autoworker against autoworker. That means lifting up the workers at non-union companies. As long as we’re divided, by union vs non-union, by status, by state, we’re all weaker,” he declared.

Bosses and their hired union-busters responded with labor law-breaking, formally called unfair labor practices.

“We are filing an unfair labor practice charge against Honda because of management illegally telling us to remove union stickers from our hats, and for basically threatening us with write-ups,” Honda worker Josh Cupit told A More Perfect Union.

Honda bosses also illegally spied on workers.

“It’s essentially to show Honda that we know what our rights are and that they’re not gonna bully us, and we’re not gonna back down from ’em. And we know they are in the wrong.”

“At VW in Chattanooga, well over 1,000 workers signed cards in less than a week, and hundreds more have signed up since,” Fain said in the Dec. 11 video.

Bosses responded by harassing and threatening workers for talking union and illegally confiscating and destroying union materials placed in the “neutral ground” of the break room. They tried “to intimidate and illegally silence” pro-union workers and also tried to ban workers from distributing the literature and talking union on non-work time and non-work areas. That’s also illegal.

VW also forced workers to attend so-called “captive audience meetings,” the UAW said. At Hyundai, bosses confiscated and destroyed pro-union materials in the break room.

“These companies are breaking the law in an attempt to get autoworkers to sit down and shut up instead of fighting for their fair share,” Fain later stated “But these workers are showing management that they won’t be intimidated out of their right to speak up and organize for a better life.”

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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.