Thursday, April 05, 2007

UAW ranks fall to post-WWII low

Saturday, March 31, 2007
UAW ranks fall to post-WWII low
By end of '06, 19 locals closed, membership fell to 538K mostly due to plant closings, but Gettelfinger says there are now 500K after '07 buyouts.
David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The United Auto Workers lost nearly 19,000 members in 2006, dropping the union's ranks to a new post-World War II low.

Membership through the end of December fell 3.4 percent to 538,448, a loss of 18,651 members compared with 2005, according to the union's annual report filed Friday with the U.S. Department of Labor.

While that's a smaller decline than the 11 percent membership drop in 2005, it may not reflect the union's true losses because so many workers who took buyouts and early retirement offers from struggling Detroit automakers left the companies early this year.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told Congress this month that the union now has about 500,000 members. Since the end of 2004, the UAW has lost 116,000 from its ranks, according to the union.

UAW membership is dropping as U.S. automakers downsize to better compete with Asian manufacturers claiming an ever-bigger share of the U.S. car and truck market. The ripple effects are being felt throughout the supplier community as well.

"The news is going to get worse before it gets better," said Gerald Meyers, former chairman of American Motors Corp. and a University of Michigan business professor. "The bleeding has not stopped and it's not going to stop anytime soon. The downsizing of GM, Ford and Chrysler. It's not over. Their shrinking is not done."

A UAW spokeswoman declined to comment on the figures in the annual report. She said the union believes a more accurate measure is its average monthly membership total, which was 576,131 in 2006, down about 22,000 compared with 2005.

As the union shrinks, it is closing some of its 800 locals around the country.

Reports filed in recent weeks show that at least 19 UAW locals closed in 2006 -- many in small towns where the union hall is a hub of community life -- as manufacturing plants closed across the country.

The losses are not limited to the auto industry. A UAW plant that made ladders in Kentucky closed as did a farm and construction equipment plant in Illinois and a Texas plant that made refrigerated cabinets.

When the union locals for these plants closed, auditors from UAW headquarters were often required to sign the termination documents, since the local officers were no longer around.

UAW Local 358 with 150 members in North Manchester, Ind., shut its doors in February after the "plant closed and the work moved to Mexico," its termination report said. Last year, Invensys Plc. closed its plant there that made motors for dishwashers and washing machines.

At least three locals closed in Michigan, including Local 247 in Sterling Heights after TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., closed a 50-year-old factory last summer, displacing more than 100 UAW workers.

Local 425 with 700 workers closed in Lorain, Ohio, when Ford Motor Co. shut its assembly plant there in December 2005.

After supplier Lear Corp. shut its Covington, Va., plant that made injection-molded door panels and trim for automobile interiors and its Winchester, Va., plant, Local 2389 shut its doors. Lear's closing of a western Michigan plant prompted the closing of UAW 1231 in Comstock Park.

The membership decline follows auto and auto parts plant closings in 2006, as well as more than 70,000 buyouts and early retirements accepted by UAW members at Ford, General Motors Corp. and its former parts unit, Delphi Corp.

Delphi wants to close 21 of its 29 U.S. plants. Ford and GM want to close a combined 26 plants by 2012. And DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group plans to close an SUV plant in Newark, Del., in 2009, and cut shifts at other factories in a restructuring that will slash 9,000 U.S. union jobs.

UAW membership peaked in the late 1970s at 1.5 million and has largely declined since.

To reverse membership losses, the union has made organizing a priority and has picked up a few hundred members in various industries. It has had success in organizing casino employees, for example, and won the right to represent dealers at Caesers Atlantic City casino this week. Dealers will vote today whether to join the UAW at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J. And Friday, Trump Marina Hotel Casino workers sought UAW certification.

The UAW will also hold a meeting in Lexington, Ky., today, where some Toyota Motor Corp. workers will speak about working conditions in Toyota's Georgetown, Ky., plant. The UAW has unsuccessfully sought to organize auto plants opened by foreign auto companies.

"The UAW did not drive the Detroit Three into the ditch, but they are paying the price," said Harley Shaiken, a labor relations professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "Until the industry halts its slide, the UAW is going to be in for some rough sledding."

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

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