Poor Bob King.
Perhaps no other union leader presides over an organization in such stark decline as the United Auto Workers. At its peak in 1979, the UAW boasted a membership of 1.5 million. Today, by its own admission, it boasts a mere 390,000. And Michigan's newly passed right-to-work law almost certainly will make it harder for the union to both retain existing members and recruit new ones.
The dire demography explains why the UAW is desperate to organize in the so-called "transnational" automakers -- foreign companies whose manufacturing plants are largely scattered throughout the low-tax, low-regulation - and less-unionized -- southern states. King is not shy about admitting as much:
We’ve got very aggressive campaigns going on at the transnationals. We know that’s key long-term to the success of our membership and the long-term security of our membership.
The latest chapter in this long and ignoble tale: King is accusing management at Nissan's plant in Canton, Miss., of threatening staffers with dismissal if they dare let the UAW in their shop. “They’re threatening workers there that they’re going to close the plant, and that’s baloney,” he raged, adding that the poor Nissan workers are “being lied to by the American management. The American management violates workers’ rights every day.” Specifically, he claims management has violated the labor standards set by the International Labor Organization, the United Nations Global Compact and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among others.
King is in the midst of UAW's third (at least) attempt to organize Nissan's southern operations. Bloomberg reports:
The UAW lost votes at Nissan’s Smyrna factory in 1989 and 2001 by 2-1 margins. The union must convince at least 30 percent of workers at the Canton factory to sign a petition seeking representation before a vote will be set by the National Labor Relations Board. For a union win, a majority of workers must vote for UAW representation.
Not gonna happen. For one, Nissan workers clearly do not feel mistreated. Corey Garner, a production technician at the Canton plant for a decade, publicly poo-pooed UAW propaganda:
Nobody is violating my rights. Things are not bad in Canton. We make a decent wage, especially for this area, it’s one of the better jobs.
No wonder Garner sees very little support for the union in his fellow plant workers. "If you poll the plant you’ll see it’s a small number of people who want to join,” he claims.
Not that that will deter King from trying. By his own reckoning, failure to organize the transnational automakers will mean the ultimate reckoning for his organization, and therefore his own job. But he should cheer up -- if King finds himself unemployed, I'm told there are a lot of job opportunities in Canton, Miss.
They pay well, and I hear it's a nice place to work.