DETROIT -- New UAW President Bob King said today the union will picket Toyota dealers nationally and run a banner campaign at the stores to pressure Toyota Motor Corp. to allow the UAW to organize its U.S. manufacturing operations.
King, who succeeded Ron Gettelfinger this week, called on UAW members to "adopt" a Toyota dealer in their respective areas to picket.
Interviewed by Automotive News behind the convention stage following his inaugural speech at the UAW national convention, King said Toyota brought on direct action by closing its New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. factory in Fremont, Calif. -- one of its best-quality plants. Former partner General Motors backed out of the venture while battling for survival last year.
"We're going to show these corporations that if they are unjust to our members that they are going to pay a price," King said.
"It's a better business decision to work with us than treat people unfairly."
After the comments, King led convention participants, more than 1,000 people, on a march through downtown Detroit to protest excesses on Wall Street.
Automotive News was unable to reach a Toyota dealer willing to comment publicly about King's remarks, but the National Automobile Dealers Association released a brief statement late this afternoon.
"We are aware of the recent press reports suggesting that the UAW may consider picketing Toyota dealers in connection with concerns over Toyota's NUMMI plant in California," the statement said.
"NADA has no comment regarding any such dispute, but we wish to make it clear to the public that individual Toyota dealers are independent businesses and that the dealers and their employees have nothing to do with any dispute between Toyota and the UAW."
King said the picketers need not be all auto workers. He said the UAW represents thousands of university faculty assistants and other staff in California, Toyota's largest U.S. market. Moreover, the UAW has thousands of retirees in Florida and other states who also may be willing to man pickets, King said during a press conference this afternoon.
In his speech, King said all UAW members must support organizing efforts at the U.S. plants of Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen.
Wages, benefits reach peak
He said the zenith in wages and benefits came decades ago when the UAW had representation at 70 to 80 percent of the U.S. plants in the automotive, aerospace and agricultural sectors.
King said UAW workers can best recapture lost concessions when they have gained bargaining leverage by organizing the Detroit 3's competitors in the United States.
He said UAW workers cannot regain wages and benefits lost during the auto recession simply “by saying no to the bosses.”
King said the union could not wait for legislation, like a stalled card-check proposal, to organize at the automakers and parts suppliers. Card-check would allow a shop to organize by simply getting a majority of workers to sign cards rather than go through a campaign that King said often subjects workers to threats from management.
Need a higher percentage
King said a much higher percentage of suppliers must be organized so that unionized suppliers are not put at a cost-disadvantage to non-union shops. Organizing broadly would drive up wages and benefits to provide livable compensation to families, he said.
King said the union needs a multi-pronged growth strategy that combines direct action with legislative initiatives.
He said the UAW would also be involved in a march next spring in Detroit to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight for civil rights and a march in Washington, D.C., in October.
Ryan Beene contributed to this report.