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Latest News - March 2012

March 23, 2012
UAW continues to press southern states to unionize
Source: The Voice, Serving northern Macomb & St. Clair counties
By: Joseph Szczesny

The campaign against Alabama's restrictive immigration law hasn't gotten a lot of attention.

However, the campaign could test the United Auto Workers’ effort to pressure foreign automakers to make their plants more accessible to UAW organizers.

Initially, UAW President Bob King had promised to have a target for the effort by the end of 2011. Now, however, union officials have pulled back from the original deadline. But they insist they haven't given up on the original idea.

King has always said he preferred quiet diplomacy to direct action like public protests and picketing. In addition, union organizers, many of them young, have been working quietly in communities near auto plants across the south to build support for the UAW.

Whether the UAW can actually build support for unionization in the South is an open question. Working conditions across the industry have improved dramatically since the first sit-down strikes at auto plants in the Midwest since the 1930s.

In addition, companies of all kinds have shifted their human relations strategies to counter the appeal of unions. But the UAW believes it can still make a case for unionization because front-line supervisors still wield an enormous amount of arbitrary power in non-union auto plants across the South.

In recent months, the UAW has avoided the spotlight since King first outlined the strategy at the union's bargaining convention.

King, who wears his liberal politics on his sleeve, also has been eager to build alliances with community groups and other organization with similar political and social objectives.

The furor created by Alabama's restrictive immigration law — House Bill 59, which requires non-U.S. citizens to have proper papers and identification on them at all time or face arrest — is real.

At least one Mercedes-Benz employee and another from Honda have already run afoul of the law.

Not surprisingly, HB 59 has stirred up a lot of opposition both inside and outside Alabama from a variety of groups, including the UAW, which is letting Latino and immigrant groups lead the opposition.

One of the strategies adopted by the coalition opposing the Alabama law is to confront the big international companies — such as Daimler AG, Hyundai, Honda and Toyota Motor Co. — to speak out against the law.

So far, the European and Asian manufacturers have ignored the protest movement, probably on the advice of American lobbyists and consultants, who don’t see any advantage in getting tangled up in a dispute about illegal immigration in the U.S.

I’m also not certain how much influence the foreign automakers have in Alabama. Despite their economic presence, I suspect European and Asian carmakers don’t have much influence in Alabama’s state legislature.

However, the coalition supporting the campaign against the Alabama law created a fuss recently when they showed up in South Korea for Hyundai’s annual shareholders meeting.

Eliseo Medina, international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, noted Hyundai signed the United Nations Global Compact that binds international corporations to defend human rights.

However, he didn’t just appeal to the conscience of Hyundai’s executives.

“Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic in my country. We are the workers and consumers of today and of the future. Hyundai has recognized this by initiating a major marketing campaign in the Latino community.

“But all that will come to nothing if the Hyundai brand becomes identified with hate and discrimination. Latinos are waiting to see whether Hyundai will stand with us or with the human rights violators in Alabama,” Medina said.

I’m certain Hyundai executives would prefer to ignore the threat. But they may not want to gamble with the company’s reputation in the U.S. market. Whatever the reaction, the UAW gains some insight about the potential for their own campaign.

The protest at the Hyundai shareholders meeting also was supported by Korea’s largest labor unions, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean Metal Workers Union, as well as KMWU Hyundai Motor Branch.

King also has been trying to build stronger alliances with European and Asian auto unions and the anti-bias campaign in Alabama is, from the UAW’s viewpoint a good vehicle for explaining the challenges the UAW faces in the South.




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