The top priority for the United Auto Workers union is now to organize nonunion workers at U.S. Toyota factories and those of other foreign automakers, the union's new president said Thursday.
Bob King, who was elected to the post on Wednesday, said in his acceptance speech that the union must fight for greater rights to organize nonunion workers. That includes lobbying for passage of the federal Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to join unions simply by filling out a card.
Currently, there are no unionized Toyota plants in the United States.
"Our goal is to provide a safe work environment and good pay and benefits, and we work hard to manage our business with employment stability in mind," said Toyota spokesman Mike Goss. "Any decision about representation is up to our team members, not the company."
King spent much of his speech criticizing Toyota, however, and said the UAW would conduct a banner campaign at its dealerships. The banners will say that Toyota puts profits before people, King said.
The reputation of the Toyota Motor Corp. has been sullied in the past year after it recalled 8 million vehicles worldwide over reports of unintended acceleration with numerous models.
On Thursday, Toyota said it will resume construction of a Mississippi plant, which had been halted when auto sales tanked in 2008.
Toyota said it will hire 2,000 workers at the Blue Springs factory.
King contends, however, that work was shifted to the Mississippi facility because it could pay lower wages than at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, Calif., which was closed recently. He also said the California plant was closed to scare workers at its other U.S. factories so they wouldn't join the union.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," said Goss of the plant, which was operated jointly with GM. "GM's withdrawal was the defining moment for NUMMI. Without our joint venture partner, we could not sustain that plant alone."
Goss also cited high costs, but said labor cost was not a significant factor.
King, 63, succeeds Ron Gettelfinger, who is retiring after eight years in office.
King went on to say at the union's convention in downtown Detroit that the only way for the UAW to win back concessions made to companies during the recession is to organize workers at all companies in the automotive, aerospace and agricultural equipment sectors.
The boss can't say his company is at a competitive disadvantage to nonunion companies if it pays union wages and benefits, King said.
"When you do that, you have the power to deliver for all members in that industry," he said.
After his speech, King was to lead the roughly 1,100 delegates on a march through downtown Detroit to demand that Wall Street pay for the damage caused by the recession and that it stop opposing financial reform.
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