It's a good thing Walter Reuther didn't live to see this. In the same month that the National Labor Relations Board went the furthest it ever had to rework the rules in favor of unionizing more workers, UAW President Bob King stated in an interview with Reuters that his union would not be naming an organizing target among foreign automakers with plants in the United States. Instead, he said, it would attempt to encourage a more cooperative relationship with companies it wants to organize.
"It really is up to the companies" said King, indicating that his union would be relying on help from corporate officers — the dreaded 1 percent — in order to organize its workers.
For the union that began its existence by taking over a GM plant to win recognition, this is pathetic. It doesn't matter what the ground rules for a vote might be; a union can pretty much stifle opposing voices. Yet even with that advantage, King seems to be admitting that if workers get to vote at all the UAW would lose.
The NLRB has approved "quickie election" rules that would put employers at a distinct disadvantage when a union calls for a recognition vote. Previously, there have usually been around 40 days before ballots were cast; the new rules would allow for elections in as little as 10 days. Union officials can prepare for weeks to settle on their message and get it out to the workers. What's more, the employers would need to contend with new reporting rules that will make it more burdensome to hire consultants and attorneys to help them put together their message and maintain good relations with their workers. The likeliest effect and intent behind these rules would be to give unions a monopoly on communications to workers before a vote on unionization takes place.
It's not like the quickie election rules were a secret. The process had been going on for most of last year. So when King announced that the UAW would not have a target for organizing among the foreign-owned auto plants, it was with the knowledge that the rules would soon be favorable for his union. The union could control the timing and would set the agenda. Its propaganda would flood the workforce before management knew what hit it. Seemingly, all they needed to do was come up with a story that would persuade enough workers to check the UAW box.
But apparently there isn't a good enough story to make the sale. Wages at the foreign-owned auto plants have been close to, or even better, than those at UAW plants for five years. Two out of the three car companies where UAW labor predominates have been through bankruptcy, and even with the political coverage provided by the union's allies, those bankruptcies cost workers' jobs. Wages are good and jobs are relatively safe without the union. Why workers would want the UAW around is a mystery that even King himself cannot answer.
And so King expresses hope that companies will drop "huge anti-union campaigns" without acknowledging that the government is doing its best to eliminate those for him. He gives lip service to the workers' rights to decide for themselves. But if the union respected workers' opinions, and had confidence in its appeal, it would be working on persuading workers to join and preparing for an election, somewhere. What King is really hoping for is that a company will collaborate with him on organizing its workers. Even with the most favorable labor law in decades about to take effect, an emasculated UAW is seeking to save itself by becoming a company union. The next logical step after that is to sell out workers, curry favor with management, and collect dues.
The absence of right-to-work laws is what makes such a cynical strategy possible. As long as workers can be forced to pay dues or agency fees to keep their jobs, worker enthusiasm for unions does not matter much to union officials. What matters more is maintaining fair relations with companies that are willing to agree to forced union dues contracts that effectively guarantee unions will receive hundreds of dollars per worker every year; potentially millions of dollars at a large enough company. At this point, right-to-work isn't union-busting, it's an intervention that will get union officials to quit groveling before companies and focus on the interests of workers again.