US auto union in talks with German carmakers: UAW

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The United Auto Workers union said Wednesday it was in preliminary discussions with two German automakers as it seeks to rebuild its rolls by unionizing the US factories of foreign "transplants."

The two unnamed carmakers have indicated they might consider honoring the union's demand for neutrality as it tries to recruit new members at their plants, UAW president Bob King said.

"We've had discussions with German automakers. But we have promised to keep the discussions confidential," King said after a speech at the Automotive News World Congress, held concurrently with the North American International Auto Show.

In the speech, King outlined the neutrality request the UAW has presented to German, Japanese and South Korean companies building cars inside the United States and Canada.

The union wants companies like Toyota, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Nissan, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz to remain neutral during the its organizing efforts.

"They can't threaten to close plants," he said. "They can't tell lies about us or tell people the union will make their plants uncompetitive," King said.

"We have to convince them we're not the evil empire," he added. "We're not looking for a confrontation."

King said the UAW has been as essential part of the rebuilding Ford Motor Co.'s image and has actively participated in Chrysler's turnaround over the past year.

"Working with us is a smart business decision," he said.

He said that the labor relations staffs at the foreign plants are larger than those at Ford.

"They could save themselves millions of dollars," he said.

But he warned that the foreign carmakers who don't accept the UAW's organising terms will face a bruising campaign.

He said the union is prepared to use "all of its resources" and bring its allies into the fight.

"I don't want to use the word boycott," he said.

"But I don't think any company wants to be accused of violating human rights.... I don't think they want to be accused of treating their American workers as second-class citizens."

Once extremely powerful at the Big Three US carmakers, the UAW has been weakened by years of layoffs, the economic crisis and the relocation of car plants to union-unfriendly areas.

Now the union is trying to rebuild its ranks and influence via the foreign transplants.

The last time it tried to organize a transplant factory was in 2001 at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tennessee.

The union was voted down shortly after Nissan chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn threatened to close the plant if the workers unionized.

King said pay at union and non-union auto plants is essentially equal, running between $25 to $28 per hour for long-term employees.

But the laborers at the foreign firms are about 25 percent temporary workers, who are paid half as much as permanent workers and get few or no benefits, according to King.

King also defended the UAW's efforts encouraging Fiat to move jobs from Italy to the United States.

"I hope (Fiat-and the Italian unions) can find a way to work together," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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