With their fight against Detroit-Three OEMs (presumably) won, United Auto Workers leaders are turning their attention toward non-unionized automakers in the U.S., such as Tesla and Toyota.
In a series of recent video updates, United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain has discussed the organization’s plans now that it is no longer occupied with negotiations, describing his long-term vision for the automotive industry. “One of our biggest goals coming out of this historic contract victory is to organize like we’ve never organized before,” he commented on Sunday. “When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be with the Big Three, but with the Big Five or Big Six.”
In later remarks, Fain targeted Toyota, whose U.S. facilities are largely located in right-to-work states across the south. These laws allow employees to exempt themselves from union dues, making it difficult to establish organized labor. Earlier this week, in an apparent response to Detroit-Three companies agreeing to a 25% pay raise and improved benefits for United Auto Workers members, the Japanese OEM announced it would also increase wages for its staff in the U.S. to remain competitive with industry standards. According to Reuters, similar plans may be in development at Honda.
Although the company did not directly mention United Auto Workers in its announcement, Fain argued that Toyota’s decision to boost pay was a result of fear rather than an interest in employee wellbeing. “They could have just as easily raised wages a month ago or a year ago,” he commented. “They did it now because the company knows we’re coming for ’em.” The UAW chief then urged Toyota workers to consider unionization. “Toyota’s future won’t be determined in the boardrooms,” he added. “It’ll be determined on the plant floor.” Shortly before Fain’s announcement, Toyota released a statement endorsing the status quo of its employee-company relationship, stating: “The decision to unionize is ultimately made by our employees.”
Although the United Auto Workers union has scored a historic victory against the Detroit-Three brands, it is uncertain if the momentum it has built will sufficiently inspire employees at other companies who have long-resisted the organization’s calls for support. That being said, it was also uncertain whether the UAW would achieve its ambitious contract goals, and yet here we are. Given the sudden surge in support for organized labor and the increasing determination unions have shown in 2023, this may be a now-or-never chance to affect widespread change.