America’s auto union, the UAW, has been heavily basing its wins lately on an old labor movement system – neutrality agreements. These are rarely employed today, besides the ones claimed now by the UAW, that is.
Most recently, in February 2013, the United Auto Workers union won the election to organize 650 hourly workers in Oklahoma at a school bus factory belonging to Navistar’s IC Bus. Previously, the union tried – and failed – twice to unionize the plant’s employees, but after a new management team declared neutrality on the matter the UAW swiftly prevailed.
“That is because employer neutrality is the labor relations equivalent of unilateral disarmament,” said Gary Klotz, from Butzel Long – which represents companies on labor issues.
“I think in the auto industry, some of it was because of tradition. The Detroit Three were organized, and the UAW had relationships already in place with them,” said Joseph Barker, a retired regional director at the National Labor Relations Board. “And the Detroit Three wanted to make sure their auto suppliers were not going to have labor problems if there was an organizing drive going on.”
Still, company neutrality seems to be the exception in parts of the automotive industry – as the fact that Volkswagen declared neutral in UAW’s drive to organize its lone US plant prove fruitless in the end.