During the week of July 25, the United Auto Workers and the three U.S. domestic auto manufacturers – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – began bargaining to renegotiate their master agreements that expire on September 14. These are the first formal talks since the 2009 government-aided bankruptcy reorganizations of GM and Chrysler. The top priorities for the union this year are investment commitments to maintain and expand job opportunities; to raise standards for new hires, temporary and contingent workers that will allow those workers to advance to the top pay tier; and to resist health cost-shifting to employees and seek longer periods of company-paid health coverage for laid-off workers. The historic practice of pattern bargaining might not take place this year because the three companies' financial conditions are so different. Another historic concept, short strikes, is probably obsolete because workers at GM and Chrysler do not have the right to strike this year as a condition of the federal bailout.
The UAW is touting its "21st century approach" in its attempt to attract employees of foreign automakers who operate in the United States. The UAW has repeatedly failed to organize workers at the U.S. plants of Toyota, Honda and Nissan. However, union officials have previously said they were talking about organizing workers at a new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. UAW officials say the union is making "great inroads" in its organizing efforts and predict that, before the end of this year, a campaign will be under way. UAW President Bob King's message to the foreign automakers is, "Why would you spend millions and millions of dollars to try and keep a union out when that union can add value?" Easier said than done, Mr. King!