US: the UAW struggles for cash and may raise duties image

With its membership tumbling sharply and a long-running effort to organize foreign-owned makers still in limbo, the United Auto Workers Union is looking at the possibility of raising its dues by 25% – for the first time since 1967.

While still considered the richest of America’s unions, the UAW has faced increasing troubled in recent years, with membership declining, organizing efforts stalling and rising costs forcing it to slash expenses. Despite an estimated $1 billion in assets, there have been ongoing concerns about the UAW’s long-term viability, as well as its political clout.

According to a report from the Reuter’s news service, the Detroit-based autoworkers union would like to raise dues by as much as 25%. For the average worker, that would amount to paying the equivalent of 2.5 hours wages per month, up from the current 2 hours. Dues vary depending upon pay grade, however, so if the increase is approved, a veteran line worker at one of the Detroit Big Three would pay about $70.32 a month, while a recently hired employee on a second-tier pay scale would shell out around $39.45.

While dues rise with wages, it would be the first formal increase in the formula since 1967, a time when the union was at its peak in an industry overwhelmingly dominated by Detroit. UAW membership actually continued to grow even after Japanese makers like Toyota, Nissan and Honda began to gain ground following the twin oil shocks of the 1970s.

In 1979, the UAW hit its peak with 1.5 million dues paying members. Since then, however, it has taken a nosedive, with only 382,500 members at the end of 2012, a nearly 75% decline. The union ranks have shrunk 30% since just 2005. That’s due to a variety of factors. The UAW has offered repeated concessions to assist Detroit’s Big Three, two of which went through bankruptcy in 2009. The domestic restructuring has seen the closure of scores of assembly and parts plants while new rules meant to promote productivity have further cut into the rank-and-file.

Union membership has been tumbling across the country, with only about one in nine American workers represented by an organized labor group in 2012, according to federal figures. It remains to be seen if the UAW will feel any impact from the move by the state legislature to make Michigan a right-to-work state.
The Autoworkers Union strongly opposed that measure and, in years past, likely would have been able to block its passage, but the move, strongly backed by the GOP controlled legislature and signed by a Republican governor, underscores the steady decline in UAW clout.