9.16.2009

Why Haven’t Toyota Workers Joined the UAW?

Toyota’s decision to close the NUMMI plant in California (after partner GM pulled out) prompted an interesting observation on something called The Car Gurus Blog. The writer called it “the best move Toyota could’ve made” because it was the only unionized Toyota plant, and the closing means Toyota no longer has to deal with the United Auto Workers.

That raised an interesting question in my mind. NUMMI was launched 25 years ago. At the time, I’m sure the UAW was delighted to be representing workers at a Toyota plant, even if Toyota was only one-half of the joint venture. And I would bet the union was hoping it could build on that toehold to represent workers at other Toyota facilities.

But it didn’t. In 25 years, the UAW never created another union local anywhere else in Toyota.

Why not?

Could it be because Toyota shows more respect for people (a lean principle) than the Big Three, treating its employees better, with the result that Toyota’s employees just never felt any compelling need for a union?

As I’ve never worked for an auto company, I’m just guessing. What do you think?

By the way, to my knowledge, the UAW does not represent workers at the U.S. plants of any foreign automaker, not just Toyota. If any of you believe that is incorrect, please let me know.

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