While the UAW preaches a commitment to keep workers safe and protect their jobs, its historical record shows otherwise. Thousands of UAW-represented employees have lost work when their employers have closed plants. Meanwhile, UAW-represented plants for large automotive companies have in the past posted safety violation rates many times higher than the industry average.
The UAW is also willing to bargain away workers’ job security when it suits the union’s interests. In Moraine, OH, in 2008, workers at one of GM’s most-productive plants found themselves out of a job and locked out of transferring to other plants, after the UAW used them as a bargaining chip. The union’s response? “…there wasn’t enough to go around.” Recently, the UAW even said it would support a company closing its plant—leaving hundreds of employees out of work.
The union’s less-than-flattering history also includes a number of corruption scandals–including, most recently, a scheme involving a UAW executive to siphon over $4.5 million from a worker training center. This history is the reason that workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, MS, recently voted two-to-one to reject UAW representation–the UAW’s third such loss at Nissan. Some strategists have proposed new models of workplace representation, but other unions are mired in the past. The UAW is part of that problem.
According to reporting in the Wall Street Journal, the 2008 plant closure in Moraine was engineered by the UAW. The plant was one of GM’s most productive, but because its employees were not represented by the UAW, the union viewed it as expendable.
“We did everything we could to keep that plant open and keep our jobs,” said Mitchell Wood, a 44-year-old father of two who used to attach tailgates onto sport-utility vehicles at Moraine. “But in the end, we didn’t have a chance, not being in the UAW.”
When asked about the job losses at Moraine, the UAW’s response was that “there wasn’t enough to go around.” In fact, the UAW ensured that Moraine’s “workers were barred from transfers to UAW plants.”
For employees like Mitchell Wood, this wasn’t an easy blow to recover from: “After his layoff, Mr. Wood …. watched his life run in reverse. His wife left him, he lost his home in the suburbs and he is back living in the same kind of tough neighborhood where he grew up.”
One employee in the GM Moraine Assembly Facebook group summarized it this way: “UAW is why we lost our jobs.”
Auto Plant Closures, 1980 to the Present
Since the 1970s, the United States has experienced dozens of auto plant closures affecting thousands of UAW-represented employees. The map above provides a partial snapshot of plant closures.
Many employees who’ve lost their livelihoods in these plant closures have testified that the UAW did not represent their interests well–or even actively worked to harm them.
- In Grand Rapids, MI, a UAW Local has said it’s fine with a local manufacturing plant closing–even though hundreds of UAW-represented employees would lose their jobs. Said a local union official: “If the company decides to close, the union would support it at this point.”
- Consider a 2010 plant closure in Fremont, CA, that affected thousands of employees. 80% of the plant’s employees signed a letter saying they were upset with how the UAW handled the closure. When an employee raised concerns with the UAW Local’s bargaining chairman, he was told to “shut the f**k up you motherf**ker.” Today, the union is still in Fremont–and leasing from a landlord who was sued by the Labor Department.
- The UAW’s assurances that jobs won’t be sent elsewhere has proven hollow in the past. For instance, in Fostoria, OH, a spark plug factory lost hundreds of jobs starting in 2007 as the company moved work to Mexico to “lower its costs…” The UAW said at the time “there was nothing it could do to stop the job losses…” Today,that same plant and the 56 people who still work there may soon lose their jobs when it closes for good.
The UAW’s failures also extend to workplace safety for female employees. Over two-dozen female employees at UAW-represented auto plants in Chicago have alleged “blatant” and “severe” sexual harassment. While the employer was investigating these claims, the UAW went so far as to challenge the suspension of the union plant chairman.
Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) show that the safety record at UAW-organized facilities has been worse—in some cases, much worse—than the industry average.
Data from specific plants show just how low safety standards had fallen. At the Kansas City Assembly plant, the OSHA case incidence rate was nearly four times the industry average; a similar trend applied at the Dearborn truck plant. Improvements in plant safety began after OSHA got involved in 2001. It appears it was the government’s involvement, rather than the presence of a labor union alone, that helped improve workplace safety