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Looming in the background of Prime Minister Abe’s state visit to our nation’s capital today is a trade deficit that already threatens America’s middle class economy as storm clouds gather and current discussions could accelerate, not end, America’s trade imbalance with Japan. This is a crucial time for middle class American manufacturing workers.
Japan keeps its auto market closed through deeply entrenched non-tariff barriers such as monetary policies designed to manipulate the value of its currency. Japan has the most closed auto market in the developed world and over several decades, countless efforts to open their markets have failed despite promises to the contrary. In 2013, our trade deficit with Japan reached $67.4 billion, and over 74 percent of that deficit is in the automotive sector. The U.S. exports one vehicle to Japan for every 99 vehicles imported. We have an open auto market while Japan does not. If we are not careful, trade agreements could make this worse.
While we welcome Prime Minister Abe and we respect our Japanese allies and the Japanese people, policies designed to artificially devalue the yen gives foreign companies unfair profit advantages that result in a tremendous hardship for America’s automotive workforce. In the case of Toyota alone, the weakening yen adds $6,000 per car in profits for the average imported car in 2013. It is estimated with today’s yen that profit has increased to $11,000 per car over domestic automakers. In 2012 it was estimated to create an annual windfall of $4 billion to Honda and $5.2 billion to Nissan.
The members of the United Auto Workers take great pride in the fact that the American auto industry leads the country in manufactured exports today. President Obama deserves a great deal of credit for taking bold actions to save more than one million jobs in the auto sector during the economic crisis. But our country needs to build on this success and make sure future trade agreements do not undermine manufacturing and middle class jobs in the years ahead. We must fix America’s trade imbalance and restore fairness to American trade policies.
Undoubtedly someone will tell you they support jobs in the United States because they bought a vehicle made at a U.S. plant, even if it is nonunion.
Sure, those jobs may be filled by Americans, but there’s no way that their purchase supports as many jobs in the United States than if they bought a union-built vehicle. Why support our struggling economy just a little when you can do more?
U.S.-based automakers directly employ about two-thirds of all American autoworkers.
“It matters a great deal who built your vehicle,” said UAW President Bob King. “When you buy union-made, you help support the middle class. One of the best ways to support our country, our states and our local communities is to buy a top-quality, union-made vehicle.”
The UAW has released its 2011 Union-Made Vehicles list, which thousands of consumers use not only to look for excellent, best in class vehicles, but to make sure their purchase supports the middle class.
You’ll notice that some of the vehicles on the list are made by our union brothers and sisters in the Canadian Auto Workers union. The UAW proudly recommends these fine vehicles because UAW members make a significant portion of the engines, transmissions and other components.
“There’s a lot of U.S.-manufactured content in these vehicles that our UAW brothers and sisters make,” King said. “When you buy these vehicles, you are supporting decent wages and fair working conditions in both countries.”
Some other handy facts about the domestic auto industry:
And let’s not forget that for the past several years, vehicles made by U.S.-based automakers have consistently been ranked high, if not the highest, in several quality categories in the esteemed, annual J.D. Power vehicle quality studies. In fact, in the 2010 J.D. Power Quality study results, U.S.-based automakers' cars ranked in the top three of 12 categories and ranked first over foreign-company brands in six of the 12 categories.
Vehicles made by U.S.-based automakers have consistently been ranked high, if not the highest, in several quality categories.
In the July, 2010 J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study (APEAL) that measures customer satisfaction, domestic brands ranked higher than foreign brands. Domestic manufacturers won eight of the top 20 ranked vehicles, with Ford winning the highest award in five segments – more than any other manufacturer.
Domestic brands had an average score of 787 points on a 1,000-point scale, 13 points higher than the overall score of foreign brands.
Let’s also not forget that many nonunion auto companies violate their U.S. workers’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association by viciously fighting their workers when they express a desire to organize.
These same corporations allow workers in their home countries the right to organize and collectively bargain. Should our American workers be given fewer rights and less respect?
Buying a union-built vehicle does make a huge difference. Happy shopping.
By Bob King
Many have noticed that the UAW has become more vocal and active in standing up for economic justice outside our union.
We've taken strong positions protesting Wall Street banks that helped cause the current economic crisis -- and are now foreclosing on hard-hit property owners in Detroit. We're supporting farm workers in North Carolina who want the right to organize.
We're working with the Rainbow PUSH coalition to promote an agenda of "Jobs, Justice and Peace" for our country and will be marching with them on Aug. 28 here in Detroit. We will participate with the NAACP and other allies in the "One Nation, Working Together" march on Oct. 2 in Washington, calling for jobs for all.
We plan much more.
It's fair to ask why: What difference does it make to our members in manufacturing plants or at casino tables, insurance companies, colleges, hospitals and elsewhere?
We've always been at the forefront of social justice campaigns, whether it was providing office space to Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 so he could preview his "I Have a Dream Speech," walking with Cesar Chavez as he fought for farm workers in California's vineyards or working with Nelson Mandela to end apartheid.
We've always been there for others seeking justice. It's the right thing to do. We also know that a "rising tide raises all boats" so that when we win social and economic justice for any other workers, we are strengthening our members' ability to win and maintain fair standards of living and social and economic justice with their employers.
And you know there is a wonderful phenomenon in life: When you do the right thing, the right moral and spiritual "thing," unintended and unexpected benefits come back to you. This has certainly been my experience.
Right now, the UAW is running a campaign to convince Toyota to respect workers' First Amendment rights to freedom of association and free speech.
Toyota has run a decades-long battle against its nonunion workers who simply want a fair union representation election, free of management's fear and intimidation tactics. Our top priority is workers' right to organize for a voice on the job in the United States and around the globe.
While we welcome Toyota and the other foreign-owned manufacturers and the jobs they provide Americans, it is essential that these corporations respect the fundamental rights of American workers to free speech and assembly.
Unfortunately, it is an irony that many of these foreign-owned corporations like Toyota accept and cooperate with unions in other countries, but when they operate in the United States they treat Americans as second-class global citizens, resisting the workers' right to organize unions.
With a little help from our friends, we're going to expose Toyota until it agrees that its U.S. workers have the legal right to join a union if they so choose -- just like its workers in Japan have.
Workers in China and in other nations are beginning to fight back, launching strikes and other job actions that would have made the UAW sit-downers at General Motors or the veterans of the Battle of the Overpass at Ford Motor Co. proud.
The flow of jobs overseas will never ebb unless we can help workers in China and other countries raise their standard of living.
This will keep more manufacturing jobs from leaving our shores. It will improve our economy so local governments won't have to cut health care, colleges can keep tuition affordable and Americans have a little more spending money.
We'll be out in the streets of Detroit on Aug. 28 and the streets of Washington on Oct. 2 to march for jobs, peace and justice.
The Aug. 28 event will mark the 47th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream Speech," which previewed in Detroit before it was delivered on the Washington Mall.
Hope to see you there.
Bob King is president of the UAW. This opinion piece first appeared in the Aug. 4 edition of the Detroit News.
It happens occasionally, and when it does it’s almost always contentious: Someone tries to drive a non-UAW made vehicle into the parking lot of a UAW building and they get turned away. It happened again recently, only this time the person turned away was a reporter from the Kansas City Business Journal who was trying to cover the signing of the Missouri Automotive Manufacturing Jobs Act, which could result in tens of millions of dollars for a major UAW employer – Ford Motor Co. The signing was a good story for the UAW, but in a blog post the reporter also was critical of the UAW about his parking experience at Local 249.
UAW President Bob King used the blog post to create a teaching moment not only for the reporter who wanted to park his Toyota Camry in Local 249’s parking lot, but for those who think simply buying a car made in the United States is as helpful to American workers and the U.S. economy as is buying a UAW-made car.
Here is UAW President Bob King’s response to that post. He outlines why driving a Toyota Camry isn’t the same as driving a UAW-made vehicle:
“Dear Mr. Dornbrook:
Thank you for covering the signing of the Missouri Automotive Manufacturing Jobs Act. It’s an important measure for the overall health of American automotive manufacturing and for workers who depend on good jobs at auto plants, their suppliers and other businesses dependent on these plants and the revenue and tax dollars they generate.
We are sorry you were inconvenienced and had to worry about where your car was parked while you covered the signing. The UAW member you encountered in the UAW Local 249 parking lot meant no personal disrespect to you. Accommodating vehicles not made by UAW brothers and sisters is a passionate subject for our members. He and UAW members across the country know that foreign automakers who allow workers to freely join unions in their home countries, while denying that same right to U.S. workers are denying the First Amendment right of American workers to freely organize. Yet foreign automakers accept U.S. taxpayer’s dollars in incentives to build assembly plants in the United States, jeopardizing the future of middle-class workers in the domestic auto industry.
Here are some facts you may want to consider about the domestic auto industry:
Buying a U.S./UAW vehicle does make a difference.
Thank you for your attention to this and for covering issues important to American workers. We look forward to hearing from you in the future.”
These are important points for us to share the next time someone tells us it doesn’t matter that their U.S.-built Toyota or Honda wasn’t assembled by our UAW sisters and brothers. It does matter. Who builds those cars builds the American middle-class, which the UAW had a major part in creating. Let’s keep it that way.
There’s more news about how Toyota has lost its way when it comes to being a responsible corporate citizen. The New York Times, in a July 24 editorial, says Toyota has “repeatedly failed to report potentially deadly problems.”
By rule, all automakers are required to report flaws in the vehicles within five days of detection. Yet, the Times says Toyota issued a recall in Japan regarding problems with steering wheel relay rods. But it didn’t do so in the United States, because of “different driving conditions.”
It kind of sounds like it has two different standards. We’ve heard this before: Toyota allows its workers in Japan to unionize without fear and intimidation from management. In the United States, it has a completely different standard for its workers when it comes to organizing. Why is that?
The UAW today released the following statement on the labor unrest in China's auto plants:
The one million active and retired members of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) stand in solidarity with Chinese autoworkers who in recent weeks have escalated their struggle for higher wages, safer working conditions, and the establishment of independent trade unions. The current wave of labor unrest began with a spontaneous strike at a Honda component manufacturing plant in Guangdong province and has now spread to Toyota parts plants in Tianjin and elsewhere throughout southeast China’s industrial belt.
The Chinese government has used the suppression of wages and worker rights, manipulation of its currency, and heavy subsidization of industry to create an extremely attractive investment environment for foreign-based automotive manufacturers. In addition to Honda and Toyota, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler-Fiat have established profitable joint-venture operations with Chinese auto companies, as have the Europeans (Daimler and Volkswagen) and Koreans (Hyundai and Kia).
So-called “unions” in China are affiliated under the Communist Party-dominated All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which, in turn, is heavily influenced by both domestic and foreign corporations. The maintenance of foreign direct investment apparently takes priority over the promotion of basic human rights. The 2010 U.S. State Department’s Annual Report on Human Rights characterized the ACFTU as “generally unassertive and ineffective in protecting the rights and interests of members.”
In the absence of real unions in China to prevent the harsh exploitation of Chinese auto workers, the global automakers are able to suppress wages and worker rights at their operations throughout the world, including here in the United States. The world’s major manufacturers, regardless of country of origin, are shifting production to those locations where wages are low and unions non-existent, whether they be in China, India, Mexico, or regions of the United States. The threat, or reality, of such production transfers weakens the ability of American workers to achieve and maintain higher wages and better benefits.
The strikes and protests taking place in China now are a reaction to the same anti-worker, anti-union business strategy employed by many companies here in the United States. When American Honda, Toyota, or Hyundai workers attempt to organize, the companies threaten to fire them or move their jobs. The behavior of Toyota management in China is not much different than here in the United States where, earlier this year, Toyota decided to cease production of its profitable Corolla at its only UAW-represented plant (NUMMI) in California and to move thousands of jobs to an assembly plant under construction in non-union Mississippi.
The UAW stands in solidarity with China’s autoworkers and their reasonable demands for higher wages, shorter working hours, and unions that truly represent their economic interests. We call on Honda, Toyota, and other auto manufacturers to improve the living standards of their employees by implementing a genuine system of collective bargaining.
DETROIT -- The UAW was born 75 years ago this year so that workers could share in the wealth created by their labor, obtain justice for working people, and have a voice in their future.
But the gains we have made are never guaranteed. Indeed, today they remain under attack by corporations that care only for the bottom line. The UAW is proud to participate in the United States Social Forum in Detroit as a way of demonstrating our solidarity with other community-based social justice organizations that share our concern for workers’ rights, economic fairness and social justice for all.
“We’re proud to associate ourselves with this great event that brings together hundreds of community-based organizations to discuss ways we can bring about social justice,” said UAW President Bob King. “It’s not only an opportunity to share ideas with like-minded organizations, it’s also a way for us to make the public – particularly young people – aware of issues affecting working Americans.”
A large labor tent will be located within the USSF village. The Michigan Labor History Society and Detroit Labor History Tours will conduct tours daily during the event. Information on times and destinations will be available in front of the Ford National Programs Center next to Cobo Hall or at the labor tent.
The following statement can be attributed to UAW President Ron Gettelfinger:
"Yesterday’s announcement by Toyota and Tesla Motors Inc. that the companies will team up to manufacture an electric vehicle at the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, Calif., is welcome news for the state's economy and workers after the closing of this highly productive plant in March.
“On Tuesday of this week the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers was the lead sponsor for a summit on Auto Communities and the Next Economy, highlighting the importance of partnerships to revitalize our nation’s automotive communities and build on the skills of the automotive workforce. The decision by Toyota and Tesla to join together in this venture is exactly the type of partnership to spur growth in auto communities that the conference addressed.
“We appreciate the leadership demonstrated by Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota and Tesla CEO Elon Musk by investing in this community and worksite.
"Our union's hope is that this venture will give first hiring preference to former NUMMI employees who are already trained and highly skilled.”