DETROIT - The UAW plans to set up about six regional organizing centers around the country to coordinate efforts to unionize automotive suppliers.
The union will launch its first center in Michigan, then expand into other regions after it gains experience, UAW President Steve Yokich said.
The centers are intended to coordinate the union's sometimes disjointed organizing drives and target the most critical suppliers, he said.
'We will probably do it after the first of the year,' Yokich said in an interview with Automotive News. 'The first one will probably be in Michigan. That way we can keep an eye on it until we get a good feel for it, to see if our ideas are right.'
The union will set up centers in regions that contain about 140,000 automotive factory jobs. Michigan and Ontario have about that many jobs, Yokich noted. Another territory might be Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.
UAW Vice President Bob King will oversee the union's efforts to organize automotive suppliers.
Yokich places a high priority on that effort because most suppliers have gone non-union over the past 20 years.
This year, the union has made some small gains among suppliers. Over the past six months, the UAW has added 3,000 to 4,000 supplier members, Yokich said.
On other issues:
The UAW is edging away from its former blanket opposition to GM's proposed spinoff of Delphi Automotive Systems. This month, the union expects to negotiate a spinoff agreement with GM.
Elements of the agreement are likely to include transfer rights allowing Delphi workers to return to GM. UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker spelled out his expectations for a deal in a Dec. 1 letter to union officials.
The UAW wants to form a world council of unions representing DaimlerChrysler AG workers. Initially, the council would include workers from North America and Germany. Later, unions from South America, Asia and other DaimlerChrysler locations could be included.
As expected, Yokich has been nominated to join DaimlerChrysler's supervisory board. The board is the equivalent of an American company's board of directors. On the other hand, The Detroit News reported that J.T. Battenberg, president of Delphi, said the UAW will not get a seat on the company's board when it is spun off.
Yokich said that Gary Cowger, GM's new vice president of labor relations, carries more clout than his predecessor, Gerald Knechtel. Cowger reports directly to GM Chairman Jack Smith, President Rick Wagoner and North American President Ron Zarrella.
That means Cowger has direct access to the decision-makers, Yokich noted: 'He has the strength of the chairman and the president behind him. He doesn't have to report to every vice president in the company. He can make decisions.'