UAW membership falls to lowest level since 1942

Market share losses by Big Three, increased efficiency causes union rosters to plummet

Membership in the United Auto Workers union plunged in 2003 to the lowest level since 1942, according to UAW documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labour.

The union lost 14,000 members last year, decreasing total membership to 624,585. Membership peaked in 1969 at 1.53 million members according to the Detroit Free Press, and the union had 1.5 million members as recently as 1979. But since then, the Big Three automakers have lost a substantial share of the market and the union hasn’t been as successful at organizing workers at automakers like Honda and Toyota.

But despite the drop in membership, the amount of union dues it collected in 2003 rose to $214.3 million US, up from $209 million US in 2002.

Part of the blame for the decline in membership is the increasing efficiency of automotive plants. In 1997 it took 47 worker hours for General Motors to build a vehicle. In 2003, the same vehicle could be built in just over 36 worker hours, according to the Free Press.

Nelson Lichtenstein, a University of California-Santa Barbara labour history professor and the author of a book on the UAW, said the union needs to organize more workers at parts plants. Otherwise, automakers will have an incentive to outsource more union work because it can be done cheaper at non-union plants, he said.

“In part, it’s beyond the UAW’s control,” he told the Free Press. “They are up against it because the transplants like Toyota or non-union suppliers have lots of people to choose from who will work for $10 to $12 an hour and won’t join the union.”

To read the full story, login below.

Not a subscriber?

Start your subscription today!