DETROIT -- UAW President Bob King said UAW pickets at Toyota dealerships last year were a preview of what transplant automakers can expect if they interfere with the union's drive to organize their plants.
Last month the UAW announced its plan for organizing drives at foreign-owned automakers, stressing the union's new-found partnership approach to working with management.
But if targeted automakers harass workers during organizing drives, they face being branded by the UAW as “human rights violators,” King told the Automotive News World Congress.
That could cause potential buyers to go elsewhere, he said.
“I would not want to be a company that was branded as a human rights violator,” King said. “That would be a bad business decision.”
This month the UAW sent letters to all the foreign automakers operating in the United States, asking them to agree to principles of a fair union election that the UAW drew up, and has begun to meet with workers at transplant factories.
Speaking to reporters after his speech, King declined to say whether any of the transplants had responded.
The union hopes the companies will take the high road and allow democratic union elections. If workers at Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen factories say no to the union, the UAW will respect that decision and leave, King said.
But he said the UAW would act swiftly to punish any automaker that interferes with the drives, with demonstrations, public meetings, letters, outreach to shareholders and networking with UAW allies in the religious, civil-rights and environmental communities.
Referring to last fall's demonstrations against Toyota dealers, King said: “It's just a minor taste of what we'll do if workers' democratic rights are violated.”
King vowed to commit the resources of the union to expose violators of the fair-organizing principles. Without the right of unions to organize and bargain collectively, King said, “There can be no strong, sustainable middle class.”
King said the union's pitch has changed dramatically from that of several failed past organizing attempts.
The union's role in the revival of the Detroit 3 since the 2009 crisis has shown that the union has become a partner rather than an adversary, King said.
The union has become much more flexible in the auto plants. He said most Detroit 3 plants have just one production classification, allowing management to effectively deploy the work force. King said in any Detroit 3 plant, shop floor members talk constantly about quality and suggest process changes to improve quality and productivity.
Said King: “We're not the evil empire.”