New UAW chief vows to keep pressure on transplants

DETROIT -- New UAW President Dennis Williams said today that the union will intensify efforts to organize transplants, with Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel stationed in Tennessee to coordinate the drives.

At a press conference after the UAW Constitutional Convention, Casteel said Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga assembly plant remains clearly in the organizing sights of the UAW, especially with the automaker wanting a works council to represent the interest of workers in plant operations.

Casteel also indicated that the UAW is working on a new plan to organize the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Vance, Ala., saying details would be forthcoming.

Williams, 61, hinted that the union would try to be more efficient with its organizing budget, and possibly spend less, without providing specifics. The UAW has drawn about $15 million annually from the UAW strike fund over the past four years to pay for organizing.

The 1,100 delegates at the convention, though, voted to stop that withdrawal. The money instead will come from the UAW general fund. A 25-percent dues increase that starts in August will raise $50 million per year. The money will go directly to the strike fund and not be used elsewhere, Williams said. The strike fund balance has fallen from $900 million in 2006 to $630 million today.

The UAW has about 390,000 members, one-third of whom work at the Detroit 3.

Casteel has led organizing drive of the transplant automakers in the South from his UAW Region 8 home base in Tennessee. He said it makes sense for him to stay in Tennessee for the foreseeable future.

The UAW narrowly lost an organizing election at VW Chattanooga in February, which the union said was unduly influenced by politicians and outside anti-union groups.

Williams used the press conference to serve notice that the UAW won’t entertain concessionary proposals in contract talks with the Detroit 3 next year.

No concessions

“There’s no reason to take concessions when the corporations are healthy,” he said.

Williams also wants to end so-called Tier 2, or lower, wages and benefits paid to entry-level workers at auto companies.

Hires at the Detroit 3 start under Tier 2 at $15.78 per hour with no defined pension compared with about $28 an hour for traditional workers.

“No one likes Tier 2,” Williams said.

He declined to specify how the UAW planned to attack Tier 2 wages in the upcoming contract talks with the Detroit 3. About one-quarter of UAW members at the Detroit 3 receive the lower, entry-level compensation package.

Key assignments

Williams announced the assignments for his key vice presidents and officers. In addition to Casteel, Vice President Cindy Estrada will head up negotiations with General Motors and parts suppliers; Vice President Jimmy Settles remains in charge of the Ford department; and newly elected Vice President Norwood Jewell will lead negotiations with Chrysler.

Williams said Jewell’s assignment might be the most interesting given the colorful style of Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

In the last Chrysler contract talks in 2011, Marchionne bargained for an overall labor cost increase of 1 percent and he criticized then President Bob King for missing an appointment with him to go over a tentative agreement.

King, 67, retired from the UAW at the convention this week.

You can reach David Barkholz at -- Follow David on Twitter: @barkholzatan

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