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UAW pushes to organize Kentucky Toyota plant

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UAW pushes to organize Kentucky Toyota plant
Sholnn Freeman | The Washington Post | Link to Original Article @ DetNews


GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- Dissident workers at the Toyota plant here gather at the Best Western Georgetown on Wednesdays between shifts to shape a battle plan. The workers are angry at conditions at this flagship Toyota site, where the best-selling Camry is built.

The United Auto Workers has launched a big new push to organize the plant, trying to capitalize on fears of lower pay, outsourcing of jobs and on Toyota's treatment of injured workers. The stakes for the UAW intensified this month as a private-equity firm agreed to buy Chrysler, raising fears that the union will be unable to block cuts in jobs and benefits at a privately owned automaker.

The Chrysler deal has underscored the UAW's diminished clout as membership has shrunk along with jobs at the Detroit automakers. The UAW has never succeeded in organizing a foreign auto assembly plant in the United States, but Toyota's emergence as the world's largest automaker has added urgency to this effort. The UAW will begin new contract negotiations this summer without any workers from Toyota.

"We've got a lot of work to do," said Charles Lite, 41, a member of the organizing group, speaking of the effort at Toyota. "No more mistakes."

The UAW and the workers have seized on leaked business documents from Toyota that detail a plan to put a lid on manufacturing wages in the United States. At a new factory being built in Mississippi, Toyota plans to pay workers about $20 an hour in a region where many people earn $12 to $13 an hour. The average Toyota worker at Georgetown makes about $25 an hour.

Toyota officials say the increasing pressures of the auto business have caused the company to reevaluate worker's compensation policies -- a matter that has to be negotiated with the union at UAW-represented plants. Toyota today is one of the auto industry's most profitable companies, and officials think its continued success depends on controlling costs.

"We think the historic American approach to things is to run full blast, pay out as high as you can in the short term while times are good, and then when times go bust, you lay people off, you shut plants and you destroy communities," said Pete Gritton, a Toyota vice president who oversees human resources at the company's plant. "Toyota does not want to do that."

Gritton said adjusting pay scales would ultimately translate into stable employment for American autoworkers. He said Toyota is seeking to maintain cost-effective growth in the United States so it can compete with low-wage countries such as China, Mexico and Brazil.

"We are the only major manufacturer of automobiles that is trying to grow and expand its business in the U.S. right now," Gritton said. "Everybody else is trying to collapse and shrink and send it to somewhere else for lower costs."

Some Toyota workers agree. "I think the people I work with are not really for a union," said Tina Goad, who has worked at Georgetown for 13 years. She acknowledged that there have been some injuries and other problems, but added: "This is a manufacturing place. Things happen. If I was a secretary in a some bank for 30 years, I could get carpal tunnel from working on computers. They always want to blame Toyota."

But others are upset, saying autoworkers are losing ground. Ed McKenna, 52, is part of the group fighting for a Toyota union. He said he recently came across a worker getting paid $8.50 an hour for a production job that is now outsourced. "It was the same job I had five years ago making $23 an hour," he said. "We can't tolerate that."

Other workers complained about poor treatment after getting injured on the job. Jennifer York, 40, injured discs in her back and got carpal tunnel syndrome in one of her wrists from building engines. She was then put to work printing papers that tell other workers what parts go on which cars.

York was put on lighter duty because of her injuries as a way to keep her on the payroll with full benefits, Toyota officials said. But for York, the job is as hard as any other in the plant. She also makes 20 percent less money and works an overnight shift that finishes at 2 a.m. She isn't satisfied with her new work arrangement and she's getting fed up with Toyota.

"I have a crappy job. I'm on second shift. I'm in pain," she said.

York says she is considering signing a union card for the first time in 19 years at Toyota. "It might just bring a new set of problems, but something has to be done," she said. "We need help."

When it built the Georgetown plant 20 years ago, Toyota was "a middle-of-the-pack auto manufacturer, somewhere below Chrysler," McKenna said.

Today Toyota is the highflying auto giant that recently surpassed General Motors as the world's largest automaker. "There are a lot of good, hardworking Kentucky people responsible for that success," McKenna said.

Toyota selected the Georgetown site during a wave of Japanese factory-building in the 1980s that was meant to counter criticism from Detroit and in Washington of rising imports. Georgetown is Toyota's highest-volume factory outside Japan. It serves as a template for the other plants the company is building around the country, including a new $1.3 billion factory in Tupelo, Miss., that is scheduled to open in three years.

About 7,200 people work at the Georgetown plant where the Camry, Solara and Avalon cars are made almost from scratch. Georgetown builds all its own engines. A plastics shop makes bumpers and instrument panels. The air is clogged with layers of industrial noise and music -- from stamping presses pounding out doors and hoods from rolls of steel, robots welding the different parts together and radios blaring country, jazz and soul music.

Since the second half of the 20th century, auto jobs have been among the highest-paid in all of manufacturing. Steel wages and construction wages followed them. In rural towns, high wages put pressure on other local employers to pay more.

"Instead of leading with $25 or $27, you have them paying $12," said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president and policy director of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. "That whole effect is wiped out. For the larger economy, it's downward pressure on wages. There won't be a lift that auto wages were providing in the past."

The dissidents at Toyota hold their Wednesday meetings in the Best Western's Avalon room -- named after the car built at the plant. Some wear shirts emblazoned with a UAW-Toyota logo.

They say Toyota's hard-line positions prompted workers to seek help from the UAW. "We don't know how to organize," said Kenny Harper, who has worked at Toyota for 18 years. "We need professional assistance."

On April 28, the workers' group and union organizers celebrated Worker Memorial Day with a service at a Georgetown park. They placed 2,000 small white paper bags with candles along a walkway surrounding a large pond. The bags represented the number of workers the union group says have been pushed out of Toyota jobs because of injuries over the past five years. They sang "Amazing Grace," read from the Bible and symbolically acknowledged some of the major injuries that affect manufacturing workers: tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, connective tissue disorder, wrist pain, lower back pain, sprains and strains.

Aileen Waugh, 51, said she had been on work restrictions for seven weeks because of torn cartilage in her wrist. She hopes the hand will heal, making surgery unnecessary.

"I think we are past due for everybody to see the other side," Waugh said. "It's not just about building great cars."
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Toyota is fooling themselves if they think they can convince the UAW of the long term benefits of lower wages to preserve future jobs. GM, Ford, and Chrysler has been trying to do that same thing for years. I can't agree more with Toyota's thinking (only time I will ever do that) but the UAW want's everything NOW! No matter if the times are good or bad! Down the road, I think Toyota (and other transplants) are going to start to see the benefit(and survival need) of mass production in Mexico, China, etc..

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I just wonder how long it'll be until union efforts in China, India, Mexico, et al become strong enough to level the playing field.

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I just wonder how long it'll be until union efforts in China, India, Mexico, et al become strong enough to level the playing field.

It's possible in India and Mexico, but China will let unions only go so far. Sure, they are starting to get unions in some sectors (fast food for instance), but being a communist government at heart, there is NO WAY that they are going to let unions get to the level that they are in the USA. For it or against it, it's going to be the way things are.

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I just wonder how long it'll be until union efforts in China, India, Mexico, et al become strong enough to level the playing field.

not this lifetime

let me revisit a topic i went off about awhile ago. Just because you can make $h! in china or malaysia and put it on a boat and send it back here, doesn't mean you have to. Business leaders don't f@#king care though. They just care with wall street PR spin and exec bonuses. There is no motivation for human stewardship in this country. I am not saying communism is they way to go. i don't even like what unions are doing. All I am saying is business more than enough leaders don't even give a f@#k about building our US economy, and giving and getting and helping people develop.

Yeah, they're under pressure. Who the f@#k cares. If they don't want the pressure that goes with their job, then quit. You can only rape the US economy so long by asking people to buy, buy, buy till at some point, people cannot buy anymore and then what do they do?

To make matters worse, everyone wants to buy $h! from the company that sends it all back to Japan, who doesn't seem to be interested in fair trade, in fact they are trying every under the radar trick possible to really f@#k us over in this department. Notice how as soon as toyota and others get a strong foothold here and get people blowing off domestics, now they basically say, we have you by the nuts now but thanks, we'll send those jobs overseas now.

Both sides are wrong here. The unions are way in the stratosphere in what they expect and workers backed by unions have no motivation to excel and grow a lot. The business leaders put no stock in helping our towns and country as much as the company.

The economy is in the $h!ter right now and you see housing is in the trash, retail is now being affected by the housing and gas prices. Wages are flat and taxes and gas, everything else is going up.

At some point the bubble will burst....so it's in their interest to pay some people here and keep them working on decent wages. They won't see that till its too late.

Edited by regfootball
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Let me just say I am glad that Toyota is on the UAW's radar now and that workers need protection in some areas to avoid being bullied by a large company, just like this. That being said I have something I want to say to Mrs. York:

"I have a crappy job. I'm on second shift. I'm in pain," she said.

Then quit. Kentucky is an at will state. You can leave whenever you want! If it is to tough on you to do the work or work during your scheduled shift then quit! My mom works a job that is MUCH harder than handing out printed papers and though she complains quite a bit (and trust me I hear it) she understands that her job is why she makes money and her job is tough and she will do it until she either can't stand it anymore OR doesn't need the money anymore.

That is life. Get over it!

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I'd rather see Toyota push them back. It might give the Domestics some courage to fight back as well.

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Expect the Democrat Congress to unionize the autoworkers of all US plants regardless of whether or not they are domestic or foreign. This just means jobs will leave US soil to Canada and Mexico just like the domestics have done. Don't get too happy about that because, the proposed EPA fleet requirements will keep Detriot reeling for decades to come.

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Let me just say I am glad that Toyota is on the UAW's radar now and that workers need protection in some areas to avoid being bullied by a large company, just like this. That being said I have something I want to say to Mrs. York:

Then quit. Kentucky is an at will state. You can leave whenever you want! If it is to tough on you to do the work or work during your scheduled shift then quit! My mom works a job that is MUCH harder than handing out printed papers and though she complains quite a bit (and trust me I hear it) she understands that her job is why she makes money and her job is tough and she will do it until she either can't stand it anymore OR doesn't need the money anymore.

That is life. Get over it!

for real! she's [lady in kentucky] making more money than other people in her position, and she's not happy? find a NEW job! we live in a free country! these people are so whiney!

Edited by jbartley
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I think they deserve a union to "feel" GM's pain. :rotflmao: Also lets consider the fact that Toyota has grown so fast it is only a matter of time before they get "stuck" with a Union. Long live GM! :gm_logo:

I think Toyota will be forced to settle someday because more and more people are getting more greedy. I hope they suffer a fate WORSE than GM someday.

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on my scale of dislike, the unions like the UAW FAR outrank toyota.

can't believe I'm saying this but, GO TOYOTA (in this case only)

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If Toyota defeats the unions attempts at organizing GM will gain leverage in their dealings with the union.

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I'd rather see Toyota push them back. It might give the Domestics some courage to fight back as well.

If Toyota defeats the unions attempts at organizing GM will gain leverage in their dealings with the union.

What these guys said.

I'd like to see employees receive fair treatment, but at the same time, they don't deserve to be paid $35.00 an hour. I wish I were paid $35.00 an hour, but that's not what my job is worth. I'm willing to accept that.

It became apparent that unions have lost their ability to influence when the Transit Union in NYC went on strike last year (or so). They were on strike for two, maybe three days. Then they stopped. Why? Did the managers come to an agreement? No. Mayor Bloomberg warned the union that the city would fine them over a million dollars per day that they were on strike. They apparently thought he was bluffing. He wasn't. But then again, they are such an integral part of the city infrastructure that they cost the city millions of dollars in tourism revenue and business revenue.

What would happen if the UAW went on strike for a particular manufacturer? The manufacturer would probably have to go bankrupt, and then the employees would be out of a job. Smooth move. So where does that leave their bargaining power?

On the other hand, even if they could get in on Toyota's money train, what would happen if they tried to strike for better wages? Toyota would just shift production to their out-of-country plants. Plain and simple.

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Look what unions have done for us and them.

They've given us a whole bunch of sensational stories about worker misconduct only problem is, lots of those stories are complete bull$h!, not all but a lot.

And unions have given Japanese workers healthcare for free at given ages, a really substantial benefit pacakge, the abilty to regulate competition with trade barriers, in other words, the abilty of their nation to screw the $h! out of us. It's not just their auto workers, it all their unions. They are doing everything they can to defend their workers and it bears repeating, the best way to do it defend "your" (or in their case, the market they have stolen via trade barriers, currency manipulation and political payola) market is screw the $h! out your competition.

I say let the UAW organize Toyota and Honda. Make they death trap plants they run safe and fair to the workers. Then see how fast they close them. And still the idiots in this nation will still but their stuff because Consumers Reports is so ...... factual?

What a stupid nation this has become.

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I'm not sure stupid is a term I'd used to describe the nation. Naive maybe. They need to be shown the way. Why do most people really care anyway? They don't see the connection between the car business and their day-to-day lives.

I'm not sure I'd refer to Toyota and Honda plants as "death trap plants" either. They still have to operate under US OSHA laws. What Toyota and Honda *have* done is take advantage of union disadvantages the big 3 have labored under while avoiding the substantial costs of the union burden themselves. This, combined with the fact they actually make reliable vehicles has put them in the position they're in today. While I don't like it, it's tough to really blame Toyota and Honda. I blame the UAW for not getting in there - so now they get Toyota and Honda unionized here or the UAW dies. Much more clear cut than the muddied waters of 20 years ago when the Asian invasion was starting to take place.

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