The past five years have not been kind to the United Auto Workers. With a membership about one-fifth of what it was at its peak in the 1970s, the organization’s members were forced to make sacrifices in wages and benefits as part of the massive restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009. But the past two years have been rare bright spots for the UAW. After membership increasing 1.1 percent in 2011, the union’s membership went up by 1794 in 2012, a gain of 0.5 percent.
2012’s membership total of 382,513 is the highest since 2008, when the organization counted 431,037 members in its ranks. The organization attributes its growth to the success of the Detroit Three automakers, which all saw sales growth in 2012. GM’s light vehicle sales increased 3.7 percent, Ford gained 4.7 percent, but Chrysler saw the biggest percentage increase, at 21 percent.
Despite its modest membership growth over the last two years, the UAW is well below its all-time membership high of 1.5 million in 1979. The organization has been in discussions with Volkswagen and German auto worker union IG Metall, which has encouraged workers at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant to align with the UAW for representation. Although Bob King and the UAW have made the most headway with VW among the foreign automakers with a U.S. manufacturing presence, the Chattanooga plant’s collective representation under the UAW is far from a foregone conclusion, with Volkswagen saying that the vote whether or not to be represented by a union is up to the plant workers, and that the UAW is not their only choice.
The Southeastern United States has long been hostile to organized labor, and the UAW’s previous attempts to organize Toyota and Nissan’s plants in Kentucky and Tennessee, have failed by substantial margins.