DETROIT (Reuters) -- The new head of the United Auto Workers on Wednesday provided an early glimpse of the campaign he plans to wage to unionize the U.S. plants of Asian automakers like Toyota Motor Corp.
In an interview with Reuters, Bob King, who vowed to "pound Toyota" when he was elected UAW president last week, said the effort will involve a big public relations component and not rely solely on the old-fashioned organizing pushes that have proved so unsuccessful with the transplants in the past.
"You're going to see a lot more activism and a lot more involvement of the membership, whether it's dealer actions, whether it's legislative actions, whether it's in broader coalitions," King said.
"We're going to ask people of conscience to stand up and tell Toyota to stop abusing workers, that preventing workers from exercising their First Amendment rights (to organize) is wrong."
A spokesman for Toyota did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.
King said the effort would try to put Toyota, which is still smarting from the product defect crisis that rattled it earlier this year, back in the PR hot seat.
"I think that public pressure on Toyota will make a tremendous difference," he said. "Toyota is a good business company. When they see that their anti-union actions are hurting their bottom line, they'll sit down and they'll work with us."
Prior to becoming president, King emerged as the UAW's point person in its failed campaign to convince Toyota to drop plans to close a California assembly plant. It was the Japanese automaker's only unionized plant in the United States.
King also said that the UAW would support organizing efforts by autoworkers in developing countries, like China, where a series of strikes at suppliers have idled production at some of the country's biggest auto plants.
"Since Walter Reuther's day, we've had a very proactive international affairs department," he said, referring to the legendary UAW president from 1946 until his death in 1970. During his years at the helm, the UAW grew to more than 1.5 million members and became one of the largest U.S. unions.
Today, UAW membership stands below 400,000, a reflection of job cutbacks at Detroit automakers and the union's inability to recruit workers at transplants operated by Asian and European automakers.
"So whether it's through diplomatic channels, whether it's through consumer actions, whatever, we're going to stand with and behind any workers looking to have the right to organize and the right to bargain," King said.
Asked about looming negotiations with Navistar International Corp, where a master contract covering several thousand workers expires this fall, King said the union would "be talking publicly very soon" about its goals.
"As you know, we go through a pretty disciplined process to hear from the members what their biggest priorities are," he said, "and we're going through that process now at Navistar."