DETROIT -- UAW delegates today approved a dues rate increase for members that will raise about $50 million annually by taking an extra half-hour of pay a month from rank-and-file workers. The increase takes effect in August.
UAW President Bob King successfully argued that the 25 percent increase was needed to replenish the UAW strike fund to provide additional money for operations and organizing, including a drive to organize Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga assembly plant. A majority of the nearly 1,100 delegates in attendance at the UAW Constitutional Convention voted in favor of the increase.
The debate ran almost three hours, with King allowing two delegates from each region to speak in favor of the dues increase and two opposed. Altogether, 40 delegates spoke on the issue. A voice vote was indecisive so King called for a show of hands that yielded a clear majority for those favoring the increase.
The debate was contentious.
Gary Walkowicz, a Ford worker in Dearborn who is running a long-shot campaign for the UAW presidency this week, said the increase should have been taken to a vote by the rank and file rather than by delegates alone.
He said that as with labor contracts members are affected monetarily by the decision and should have had a direct voice in the increase. Walkowicz said some members may opt out of paying dues in Michigan at the expiration of Detroit 3 contracts next September as they are allowed to do under a right-to-work law enacted last year.
“I’m not for people leaving the union, but that’s what some members claim they’ll do,” said Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman at Ford’s Rouge F-150 truck plant.
The dues increase for Detroit 3 autoworkers is 25 percent, from 2 hours of pay a month to 2.5 hours. The UAW has not raised the dues rate since 1967.
King, 67, said on the opening day of the UAW Constitutional Convention Monday that only through a strong strike fund can the UAW wield the power to prompt fair bargaining from the auto companies and continue organizing employers, including the U.S. auto plants of foreign carmakers. The fund has fallen since 2006 from about $900 million to about $630 million today.
Mark Dickow, president of UAW Local 140 at Chrysler’s Warren (Mich.) Truck Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit, said he supported the increase. With negotiations with the Detroit 3 coming next year, a depleted strike fund would have crimped the union’s ability to strike if forced into a corner.
“We would show we can’t stand a big fight,” Dickow said.
The upcoming Detroit 3 master talks are crucial to winning a wage increase that has been absent since 2003, he said. Moreover, the UAW needs the power to improve compensation for entry-level workers paid just more than half in wages and benefits what longtime workers receive, Dickow said. At Warren Truck, nearly 40 percent of the 3,300 employees are Tier 2. Most were hired since March 2013, he said.
“The auto companies are healthy, and we need to take care of our membership,” Dickow said.
The UAW strike fund has been depleted by $60 million in drawdowns over the past four years for organizing expenses and $100 million for general union operating expenses, King told reporters at a Monday evening press reception. The UAW has about 390,000 members. One-third work directly for the Detroit 3.
King said organizing the transplant automakers, including VW and Nissan, is crucial to securing new wages and benefits for Detroit 3 workers. He said the transplants use thousands of temporary workers annually to keep down their compensation.
King retires this week after having narrowly lost an election at VW Chattanooga this year. He is expected to be replaced by Secretary-General Dennis Williams for a four-year term.
Walkowicz said the increase will be detrimental to the UAW. The loss at VW Chattanooga was due to the UAW’s inability in the past decade to show compensation gains for Detroit 3 workers, not for insufficient organizing dollars, he said.
About 40 percent of Detroit 3 autoworkers are classified as Tier 2, working for lower wages and benefits than traditional workers, UAW statistics show.