United Auto Workers President Bob King urged industry leaders on Thursday to reject what he called a multi-billion-dollar campaign to destroy organized labor. He said strong unions will boost vehicle quality and improve the bottom line for companies as well as workers.
With talks under way to replace contracts with General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, King said the union had discarded its confrontational approach to bargaining from the past century and was committed to reaching agreements that will make those companies stronger.
"We now know that the only true job security comes from producing the best quality products and services at the best value for consumers," he said in remarks at an annual conference of industry leaders and parts manufacturers in northern Michigan. "We are fully committed to the success of our employers. Therefore, the UAW embraces flexibility, innovation and joint creative problem solving."
But King said the UAW's more business-friendly approach _ which some other unions have scorned _ would succeed only if management goes along. If not, "the more adversarial models of unionism will displace our vision," he said.
Contract talks have been a predominant theme at the Center for Automotive Research's annual Management Briefing Seminars, although company and union leaders have been reluctant to discuss specific issues. King, however, told reporters he was open to linking workers' profit-sharing to their attendance rates, addressing a longstanding problem of absenteeism at assembly plants.
Contrary to the image of unions as concerned only with pay and benefits, King said workers tend to remain with their companies longer than top managers and have more at stake in keeping their employers in business.
Union protection, he said, makes workers feel safer about recommending changes that might alienate their immediate supervisors but would improve product quality and help plants operate more efficiently. All the more reason for managers to support unions, he said.
King said he and other UAW leaders have visited Germany and Japan to learn from the more cooperative relationships between workers and management there. The union has failed repeatedly in attempts to organize workers at U.S. plants of companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. King said he was optimistic about organizing prospects this year.
A number of non-union companies have agreed to private talks with the UAW, a sign that attitudes are slowly changing, he said. Still, he said many workers at those companies remain fearful that voting to organize could cost their jobs, and their managers remain skeptical about the union's call for cooperation.
"I guess probably the biggest question in their mind is ... is this a passing fancy with the UAW or is it real," King said.