The United Auto Workers: Promoting failure

Matt Patterson Executive Director, Center for Worker Freedom, ATR
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The United Auto Workers (UAW) union gained some 9,000 new members in 2013, according to a recent filing with the U.S. Labor Department.

This small uptick has been trumpeted by the union and its supporters as a great resurgence. Not quite. Even with these gains the UAW — which represents workers in the auto, agriculture, and aerospace industries  —  has fewer than 400,000 members, a far cry from the formidable 1.5 million-man army it once commanded at its height in 1979.

Along with this failure to maintain its membership rolls, the union has also not surprisingly failed to protect the jobs of its members: According to Reuters, “since 2001, the [unionized] Detroit Three have slashed over 200,000 jobs, eliminating more than 60 percent of their hourly work force.”

The truth is that the union has been poison for the both the industry and government of Detroit. UAW contracts and regulations have fatally restricted the ability of the Detroit automakers to compete and remain profitable enterprises, while the corrupt and incompetent politicians funded by the union for decades busted the budget of what was once one of America’s most productive cities, forcing Detroit into insolvency.

So having cannibalized Detroit, current UAW President Bob King made it his mission to successfully organize a new plant in the South, especially Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

He failed. On February 14th, VW workers rejected the union 712-626.

King’s likely successor as president, Dennis Williams, has been Secretary-Treasurer of the UAW since 2012, and therefore in charge of the union’s financial health.

Williams, too, has failed. According to the Associated Press, “Annual dues collected were down more than 40 percent to $115 million from 2006 to 2012,” and that while “membership has risen slightly since 2009 … dues collected continue to decline.” (One can bet that when UAW members in Michigan at last have the option to opt of of dues next year thanks to that state’s new right-to-work law, that decline will only accelerate.)

But even though Williams has failed to reverse the UAW’s fiscal collapse, the union is set to elevate him to the highest leadership role of the national organization: Last November the union’s Reuther Caucus nominated Williams to succeed King this coming summer.

(Williams, it is worth noting, is an aggressive, highly political old-school labor boss who led a 5-year strike against Caterpillar in the 1990’s. Williams was also instrumental in helping Barack Obama win the presidency, serving as a campaign organizer for Obama in the 2008 Iowa caucus.)

Then there is Gary Casteel, the regional UAW Director in Tennessee who was charged with executing the union organizing campaign in Chattanooga.

He, too, failed, spectacularly. Yet in spite of the union’s crushing loss in Tennessee, the union is set to elevate Casteel to Secretary-Treasurer, the second highest rank in the national organization.

The UAW promotes failures in its leadership while simultaneously failing its members, its companies, and the town it has dominated for more than half a century. And yet it has the unmitigated gall to knock on the door of successful, productive facilities like Volkswagen in Chattanooga and Nissan in Canton, Mississippi, where UAW supporters have attempted to smear the company with accusations of so-called “civil rights” violations in a craven and baseless attempt to turn Nissan workers against management.

Such tactics are loathsome, but not surprising. The UAW desperately needs these foreign-owned auto facilities in order to survive. Its very existence is at stake, and it is fighting with a desperation and ferocity commensurate with its plight.

But just because the union promotes failures within, doesn’t mean it deserves a promotion without.

Matt Patterson is Executive Director of the Center for Worker Freedom at Americans for Tax Reform.