Friday, April 14, 2006

UAW loses 11% of its members

UAW loses 11% of its members

Union drops below post-World War II low as automakers, major manufacturers continue to bleed blue-collar jobs

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

April 13, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The United Auto Workers saw its membership decline 10.5 percent in 2005 to a post-World War II low of 557,099 members as Detroit automakers and major manufacturers continue to bleed blue-collar jobs.

It was the largest percentage drop in the union's membership since 2000 and comes as the UAW braces for another round of severe factory cuts at U.S. automakers and parts suppliers.

Across Michigan, the union's stronghold, active UAW membership dropped to 197,509 -- down from 233,493, according to one of several reports filed with the U.S. Labor Department.

Last April, the UAW reported its active membership in 2004 was 654,657, but revised that figure in November to 622,603 in an annual financial report. By comparison, the UAW had about 1.5 million members at its peak in 1978.

Like other industrial unions, the UAW has seen its political clout wane with the steady loss of members and the rise of the service economy.

At the same time, despite renewed organizing drives, the UAW has fallen short of efforts to recruit the increasing number of workers at U.S. plants operated by Asian and European automakers and parts suppliers.

The UAW's latest financial report shows the union's membership lost 65,804 members, or 10.6 percent, last year, and experts say with drastic job cuts on the way at General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Delphi Corp., the UAW could see its ranks drop below 500,000 by the end of the year.

"What's driving this is the loss of 50,000 members at GM and Ford and the potential loss of 37,000 jobs at Delphi," said Sean P. McAlinden, an economist at the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The UAW is going to end up as a "much smaller but still rich union that has some control over final (vehicle) assembly," he said.

GM and Delphi have offered buyouts to 130,000 factory workers, nearly all of those are represented by the UAW.

Delphi, which is reorganizing under bankruptcy protection, wants to close four of its five Michigan plants; the four plants have about 10,000 workers. In total, the company wants court approval to close or sell 21 of its 29 U.S. factories.

Ford wants to cut its U.S. factory jobs by 30,000 from 87,000 today over the next six years.
With the planned cuts, the UAW could easily have more retired members than active members, experts say.

As of the end of 2004, the UAW had 563,000 retired members -- a figure certain to rise with thousands of members opting to accept buyouts and early retirement.

Roger Kerson, a UAW spokesman, declined to comment on the filings in Washington.

Raymond Wood, vice president at UAW Local 14 in Toledo, Ohio that represents 3,200 workers at GM's Powertrain plant, said the UAW "needs to be growing the membership.

"There's strength in numbers. The UAW provides a stable income for middle-class America," Wood said. "We're very much concerned about falls in membership."

Wood said "a couple of hundred (members) have actively signed up" for the GM buyout offer, but he expected that number to climb in the next few weeks as more workers review their options.

At UAW Local 148 in Lakewood, Calif., membership has dropped to 2,383 this year from 2,700 in 2005, said Jacki Harris, president of the local that represents employees at Boeing Aircraft factories in Long Beach and Carson, where employees build military and commercial aircraft.
But the Long Beach factory is scheduled to close in this summer.

Workers began production on the final Boeing 717 at the Long Beach plant in February. The plane will be delivered to AirTran Airways in May. In June, the Long Beach factory will close after producing more than 15,000 airplanes since 1941.

In a sign of the times, Harris decided to return to school to learn new skills.

Last May, she earned a bachelor's degree and is beginning coursework toward a master's degree in business. When she was hired by then-McDonnell Douglas in 1986, the local UAW represented 35,000 members, she said.

Today, college classes are offered at the union hall to help members prepare for other careers.
"The world is changing. Middle America is going away," Harris said. "A lot of our members are getting additional education to help figure out what they are going to do. I have to change eventually too -- I'm not going to be able to retire here."

Despite the reduction in membership, the UAW remains viable, McAlinden said, noting that a University of Michigan study suggested the union wouldn't have to sell off assets to remain solvent unless its membership dipped below 300,000.

The union reported income of $272 million in 2004, while expenses were $221 million, despite last's year membership losses.

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662-8735 or


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