UAW Recruits Toyota’s Georgetown Workers In Odd Ways

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Earlier this week, a Toyota factory worker from Kentucky contacted us to share a link to According to this website’s about page it was created by some current employees at Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, Kentucky (known as TMMK in Toyota circles) who aren’t too happy with UAW efforts to unionize their plant.

Camry being welded at Toyota plant in Kentucky

TMMK currently builds the Camry, Avalon, and Venza

Operating since 1986, TMMK is one of Toyota’s oldest US facilities, as well as Toyota’s largest plant outside Japan. TMMK employs about 6,500 workers and builds 500,000 vehicles each year. Mostly, these vehicles are Camrys, but TMMK also builds the Avalon and the Venza. Arguably, TMMK is Toyota’s most important plant in the United States…which is one of the reasons the UAW has tried to take over the plant for the last 20+ years.

UAW Can’t Crack Georgetown

Since the plant started operations, the UAW has worked hard to bring Georgetown into the fold. There are a lot of reasons that the UAW has been targeting Georgetown, including:

  • Georgetown’s status as one of Toyota’s most important plants in North America
  • Georgetown builds the Camry, one of the best-selling vehicles in the world
  • Workers at TMMK earn about $25 per hour (before benefits), despite building one of Toyota’s most profitable vehicle lines in North America. This hourly rate is lower than some UAW plants in the area (at least, it used to be before GM and Chrysler filed bankruptcy)

There’s one other reason the UAW has been after Georgetown – they need to unionize Toyota workers if they want to survive. According to this NY Times article:

The U.A.W. is also just plain desperate for members. Membership fell below 400,000 last year, a level not seen since 1940, after years of plant closures by General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler. At its peak 30 years ago, the union had about 1.5 million members.

“King has to talk about organizing because the U.A.W. has a big problem: it’s hemorrhaging members…If you claim to be a labor movement, you have to grow.”

Despite the UAW’s desperate needs, however, they have never managed to sell TMMK workers on the benefits of membership. Here’s why:

  • Georgetown employees may earn “only” $25 an hour, but that figure doesn’t include annual bonuses. In 2006, for example, Toyota paid Georgetown workers an average bonus that was a little more than $10k
  • The biggest benefit that the UAW can offer is protection from being laid off…a hard sell considering the success of the Camry for the last two decades, not to mention Toyota. Workers don’t anticipate tough times.
  • Toyota has yet to lay off any US workers. When Tundra sales fell nearly 50% in 2009, Toyota didn’t lay off any workers at the Tundra plant in San Antonio. Instead, they paid workers full wages and benefits for 3 months while the plant was shut down.
  • The UAW’s track record is, in a word, awful. They’ve lost dozens of plants and 1.1 million members since their peak membership levels in 1979. TMMK workers are understandably dubious about the UAW’s ability to protect their jobs.

UAW’s Latest Recruiting Efforts Are A Little Odd

After 22 years of failing to organize Toyota workers, it makes sense that the UAW might try some unorthodox methods to reach Toyota employees. The UAW’s newest President, Bob King, has re-emphasized the importance of this task, and to that end he’s made some interesting decisions. For example:

  • The UAW has encouraged local members to picket Toyota dealers across the country. While this may put some pressure on Toyota – and may even reduce sales – this isn’t going to make workers happy. Reduced sales = reduced worker bonuses and less overtime. Picketing dealers is essentially telling TMMK workers “we care more about the UAW than we do about your bonuses or overtime pay.”
  • The UAW has issued a list of “demands” to Toyota, one of which requires Toyota to give the UAW the name and contact information of every Toyota worker. Presumably, this information will be used to contact and lobby employees, and the UAW expects this list regardless of whether workers want to share their info.
  • While touting the benefits of UAW membership to Toyota employees, UAW negotiators continue to lose jobs. GM has told the UAW they will close a stamping plant in Indiana without wage reductions, yet UAW workers seem more interested in closing the plant than taking a cut in pay…even with a large cash settlement on the table.

In light of the UAW’s steady decline in membership, history seems to suggest the UAW will fail to organize Georgetown. Based on their latest recruiting efforts, it seems likely that history will probably keep repeating.

Filed Under: Auto News


RSSComments (29)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Brian J says:

    Unions had a definite place in this country in the 19th and early 20th, but they need to go the way of vacuum tubes in televisions. The UAW is a parasite that has crippled the American auto industry. Toyota workers would be wise to avoid allowing the union into their plants. I am proud that my Toyotas were built by non-union workers in the states with >80% domestic content. Non-union made all the way!

  2. Mark says:

    I have 5 brothers who work at a vehicle parts factory and they say the unions are trying to get in their place of work to. They say the union folks tell them that they can get higher pay/benefits for them. Their pay averages in the mid 20s an hour, they have great benefits, and they are dedicated to their place of work. When a vote comes up, the union loses by 70-80%. This still hasn’t stopped the unions from trying to infiltrate. It’s funny, my brothers also say the union folks are like parasites trying to infect what they say is a good thing.

  3. Mickey says:

    Been there done that with the so called union. They walked out on me so I will never be a union man again. As mention I belonged to a union plant in the Aluminum industry. Instead of a paycut that was offered and the union rejected the plant just shutdown. Nothing like making $12 an hour back in 82 and having blue cross cover all medical bills period. I would take the $2 pay cut but these idiots forced the plant close. Now they make $0 an hour. It took alot of brains to run that outfit.

  4. mk says:

    Couldn’t agree with Brian J any more. Good posts!
    Bye, bye UNIONS. Your time and purpose has come and gone. Why mess with such a good thing – do NOT change Toyota or you will be sorry and bankrupt in due time just like GM was.

  5. TXTee says:

    As Brian J said, there used to be a time and place for unions. Today isn’t it for most industries. From the info above, the UAW is just looking to stay afloat and avoid disappearance. I have no other research and I’m no expert – but I see no obvious reason for any of those Toyota employees to join. An annual $10K bonus is not the norm in more well-established industries, so “just $25/hr” isn’t so bad after all and Camry is going nowhere fast. That’s like saying Accords were going to disappear….never!

  6. Jason says:

    Mark – Your anecdote seems to be pretty common according to the people I’ve communicated with. The UAW is trying hard to grow, but not many people can find value in what they’re selling. If the union is supposed to help you get better wages and more benefits, but you already have those things, then what good is the union?

    The funny thing – to me at least – is that their tactics seem counter-productive. Unions should be helping workers, not sending them junk mail and threatening production bonuses and overtime by picketing dealers.

    To everyone – Thank you all for your comments. Unions just don’t seem to be that popular in modern America.

  7. Mike says:

    I am a union employee (UPS) with Teamsters. I’m not endorsing the UAW but what do people really think is going to happen if labor unions go the way of the Dodo bird? Do you really think that over a period of 10-20 years that Toyota will have the incentive to pay their employees $25/hr when they do not have to worry about the UAW organizing their employees? No, because the rest of the automotive industry will be making less so why should they continue all the benefits and bonuses that they give when they already make more. Then over time you dont think that new employees will continually make less and less on the hour. The way the UAW is going about to recruit new members may not be the ideal way of doing things but there is still a definite need for labor unions. I also do not understand why everyone believes that the UAW is the cause for the big threes troubles, especially GM and Dodge/Chrysler. These companies including every other unionized company wants these unions gone and will spend millions of dollars a year to try and do so. For example, GM spent billions of their employees pension fund (aka, take a loan from it), then when things get a little rough for GM they go and tell the American public that the reason they are having such a hard time is because of, you guessed it, the pay and benefits of their employees. These corporations would love nothing more than to demonize the unions to the public eye to try and get rid of them. Did the UAW contribute to the bankruptcy of GM and Dodge, more than likely yes, but on a much smaller scale than what they would have you to believe. Some how its wrong for an employee to make $30+ per hour plus benefits but yet somehow okay for the CEO’s of these companies to make upwards of $20 million per year plus a heck of a lot more benefits than their employees get (free cars, stock, free use of jets, huge retirement, etc ). That works out to more than $9,600 per hour on a 40/hr week, one week at that rate is as much as six people making $30/hr for a full year! Somehow that is whats not fair in my opinion.

  8. Jason says:

    Mike – I don’t disagree that CEO’s are grossly over-compensated, and I think the UAW only shares part of the blame for GM and Chrysler problems.

    Your argument that Toyota only pays $25 an hour because of the UAW has merit too. I wonder if Toyota could get away with paying less? If so, would that really be a bad thing? If factory workers earned $15 an hour, a $20,000 economy car might not cost $20k.

    More importantly, I think the golden rule of capitalism is that the price we pay should no more or no less than the true value. I want to buy a car for what it’s worth, not what it costs because of union salary influence. Conversely, I deserve to get paid what I’m worth, not what I can get because I belong to a short-sighted union.

  9. TXTee says:

    The funny thing about Mike’s post is that it happens to the average worker everyday. Do you know how many corporate employees have had PAY CUTS just to keep their jobs? At least that’s what they’re being told. When in reality, some of the companies doing this have so much cash on hand they’re just using the economic conditions to “be lean” and over work the people that are left because they’re afraid of losing their job.

  10. Jeff says:

    I work at the Toyota Plant in Georgetown and today we got our fall wage anouncement. $0.00 raise for the 3rd year in a row. Benefits went up across the board. A lump sum payment of 1.65% of our last 6 months pay(works out to about $350.00 after taxes). This from a company that continues to make billion dollar quarterly net profits. They are using the downturn in the economy to rape their hard working employees. What they don’t yet realize is you get what you pay for. When I started there 15 years ago I was proud to work there and we built the best car in the country in its class, JD Powers platinum awards to prove it. Our plant, and the Camry have’t seen a JD Power award in years. The Camry slipped all the way to 26th almost last. The reason; the Team Members are not happy and moral is terrible. How about profit sharing? The article above states that we got $10k in bonuses in 2006. That isn’t true, however we did bet more than we get now which is very little. I am in the process of changing jobs and taking a paycut of about $20k a year just to get out of this plant, it’s going to get alot worse before it gets better I can’t stand anymore.

  11. TXTee says:

    Sorry to hear the real story from you Jeff and I wish you all the best moving on to something else. It’s sad but you’re no the only person that hasn’t seen wage increases or bonuses. I have many friends that have had to take salary cuts just to keep their position… I don’t complain much.

  12. Jason says:

    Jeff – I think its perspective. National unemployment is over 10%. GM, Ford, and Chrysler laid off 200k+ workers since 2008, not to mention thousands of dealership staff that lost their jobs.

    Some might say that Toyota is taking advantage of their employees during the downturn by giving them a tiny little raise. Others might say “Thank god I work for a company that’s financially solvent and didn’t have to fire anyone.”

    It’s my guess that there are thousands of people who would gladly take your place – as TXTee said, good luck in your next job. 15 years at the same place is probably too long…people start to feel entitled.

  13. Rick says:

    I am a fan of orginized labor but what the UAW has done in Ky is not an orginizing drive.Ihave worked at TMMK FOR 22 YEARS and I can see why the UAW is hemoriging membership.I will make no friends with Uaw orginzers but at this point it makes no difference.Their lack of basic orginizing skill is only surpassed by their arrogance.I fullishly had hope when BOB KING went in and said we will be knocking on Toyotas door demanding you allow youre workers to exercise their first ammendment rights.I say Mr KING YOU dont have to knock on the door we’re already in the building.I have written Mr King but he is too busy to reply.I will be inside the toyota complex tommorrow,Mr King, MRS estrada,Frank WHITE or Scott Andrews will not nor will their support.

  14. Jason (Admin) says:

    Rick – I think your comments sum up the article perfectly: The UAW can’t even manage to win over the workers that *want* them in the building – what chance do they have to win over the workers that aren’t so sure?

  15. Clutch says:

    I think Toyota workers are missing a great opportunity to use their collective power to help improve the middle class in America. Sure, they have good wages and benefits and that is due to a standard that was set by labor unions (UAW) in this country years ago. I hate to think how our middle class would have turned out if in the 1930’s and 40’s, auto workers would have said, “well, I’m better off than most so I’ll settle for this and to hell with everyone else”. Luckily for the American middle class those workers stood strong, organized, and helped create an industrial environment that has been good for corporations as well as the worker on the plant floor. Most importantly by workers coming together and forming unions they have been (and could be again) a legislative voice that addresses worker issues in all occupations. Toyota workers you need to lead the way and the other transnationals will follow. Unions are an important part of our history and a part that is worth repeating.

  16. Jason (Admin) says:

    Clutch – That’s an interesting argument for sure…did the UAW single-handedly raise wages for the middle class? I’m not a labor historian, but I’d guess they were a factor. I think I read somewhere that the UAW had 7 million members back in the late 40’s…that would have been a lot of workers at that time.

    In any case, I think you could make the argument that the UAW hurt the middle class in the last 30 years. Rather than accept the realities of global competition and adapt accordingly, UAW leadership demanded greater wages and benefits right up until GM and Chrysler collapsed. While the UAW can’t be blamed for all of the problems that faced these two companies, but they can’t be excused either. If they hadn’t taken the “we need to get paid” attitude in the 80’s and 90’s, the auto industry might not have suffered such a profound collapse in 08′ and 09′.

    Still, interesting point and I respect where you’re coming from.

  17. KY Camry Maker says:

    You know as a TMMK plant employee as well I understand what the UAW stood for and what they did for all factory employees. To put the blame on them for the Big 3’s demise is so far from the truth as it can get. Let’s look at the whole picture, the Big 3 were in a horsepower battle when the japs arrived in the US with their underpowered gas misers. Stop the press though, they ran forever and needed little maintenance to keep going. They were known to rust apart before they would die. Then the gas crunch came, speed limits fell, and those little cars didn’t seem so bad, but then the Big 3 had to play catch up. The Big 3 have been there since, quality issues have brought them to their knees, not the unions, not their members, but the poor designs. How many American made vehicles of the late 70’s to early 90’s were dubbed reliable? Of the many produce only a few. Don’t get me wrong, I support Union Made, I purchase many union made products, GE and Ford to name a few, but the big 3 missed the bus and the UAW IS TAKING THE WRAP. Corporate greed is to blame for the rising prices and then the wages just have to follow. Toyota has everybody right where they want us, grateful to have job, we have benefits to take care of our families, money to put food in their mouths, and their isn’t anything for us to truely complain about. Toyota thrives on lean manufacturing, it uses temp services and contract workers to fill the voids, times get tough, guess who goes first? That’s a successful formula right now, they haven’t the problems of retiree’s pay or benefits. They don’t want it, economic downturn, they didn’t lay off, they offered early buy outs for those with “X” amount of time an “X” amount of dollars. More power to them all, but the UAW aren’t the bad guys, they did what was needed, the UAW is only as strong as the members, it gave them all a voice, and a choice. I have worked in union workplaces, teamsters, fireman oilers, and have no complaints. I know that what I have now with Toyota at TMMK is great for the above mentioned. Can Toyota guarantee my job? No. Can the UAW? No. Can the UAW guarantee me better wages with a better work environment any more than Toyota does now? No. Nobody can. I know this, the UAW knows this and most TMMK team members know this as well. The big 3 pay is less at most of their plants now than we make at Toyota, for this I can forsee paycuts, but do I want that? No. Can I avoid it? No. Now they may not ask me to take a pay cut, but they will raise the cost of my benefits, as will other companies across the board, so we will accept this to keep working. It seems to work for Toyota though, give a little, take a little more, but union or not, it happens. Let’s face it though, no company, growing or thriving every year can afford to give raises year after year, they have to have a limit, we can’t have employees making $40-50 an hour building Camrys or F150s, no more than we can afford to have people picking lettuce making $20 an hour. Economics will not support this. Thats a whole other ball game though.

    Plain and simply put though, I am TIRED of hearing the UAW getting the blame for those companies problems. Put the responsibility where it belongs, on those companies shoulders for poor products and product planning. If every Ford or every GM had the reliability run and reputation over all as it’s Honda and Toyota counterparts do, can you honestly say that the general public would have turned away? That’s why I purchased my first Honda, then my Toyota, the others were less expensive, but the reliability wasn’t there. Product failed them, product failed the employees who believed in them, product caused the downfalls. Not the Union.

  18. Jason (Admin) says:

    KY Camry Maker – I like your comment a lot and agree with you in all respects. The UAW isn’t solely to blame for the failures and problems of GM, Chrysler, and to a lesser degree Ford.

    However, I’m not ready to say that the UAW bears no responsibility either. UAW leaders have worked hard to foster an adversarial relationship with automakers, and that led to a sense of entitlement in many UAW members.

    The UAW doesn’t deserve all the blame – not by any stretch of the imagination – but they certainly don’t deserve a pass either. UAW leaders had their hands out asking for more money despite a clear need to cut costs that’s been obvious since the mid 80’s. UAW leaders and automotive execs both had a hand in bleeding GM, Chrysler, and Ford during the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

  19. Greg says:

    Well I work at tmmk they use every exc to take away from there worker .and at has became a G.M transplant for management.

  20. George C. says:

    Very interesting comments on the UAW but let me give you mine. I worked as an hourly employee in a UAW organized plant for 17 years. Of course, the company adopted a “Southern Stragedy” & moved to a so-called “right to work” state. I then went to work at TMMK. Pay and benefits were good so why screw it up by bringing in the UAW?

    The UAW did a good job at protecting workers (no involuntary overtime) but they also went out of their way to protect lazy sob’s who would not work. I think that a large part of labor/management friction was mostly management’s fault. In both cases, I found that managment’s arrogance and refusal to address labor concerns contributed the most to bad labor relations. Same at TMMK, management refused to listen to the people on the line. As a result, TMMK has pretty poor employee relations which contributes to a decline in quality from the plant.

    Would I want TMMK to organize with the UAW? No. The Republican Party has created an atmosphere where workers joining unions is almost impossible. The companies have too many options to move to “right to work” states or third world countries. If workers want rights in this country, they need to vote for politicians who will support them. Com’on people, the Republicans(who are OWNED by the corporations) are screwing working people to death! Wake up and grow up, it’s your choice.

  21. Jason (Admin) says:

    George C – I appreciate your perspective. I can imagine that bad managers could ruin the atmosphere at a plant.

    I also think the whole right-to-work issue is a little more complicated than Democrat vs. Republican. A lot of people – myself included – think that unions are bad because they hinder competition. As an employee, I don’t want my compensation or opportunities dictated to me by union rules. I think I can do a better job than most, and I want to be treated differently.

    As an employer, I want each and every worker to be held accountable for themselves. There’s no sense in tolerating poor workers because the union tells me I have to.

  22. unclesmrgol says:

    If this plant goes UAW, that will be the last Camry, Avalon, or Venza I will buy. I last bought American in 1986 — when I ordered a new 1986 Ford Taurus MT5 Station Wagon. It was a factory build — and the UAW went on strike while my car was on the assembly line. About four months later, the car finally arrived — only to spend three months of the first year in the shop due to badly installed or missing parts. Three years later, the power steering blew up — due to a missing heat shield between the exhaust manifold and the PS hoses. Had my wife been on the road rather than in the driveway, she might have died in that car.

    That’s what I remember the UAW for — and I will never ever buy another car built by them. That’s why, last time I bought, I passed on the Mazda 6 (proudly built by the UAW in Flat Rock MI) and bought the Mazda 3 (proudly built by the Japanese in Hiroshima) instead; the 6 had five times the problems the 3 had, according to the dealership repair records. I’m looking at a Camry for my next car in two years (once the new model wears in), but we’ll see. It’s a nice looking car — pity if something like the UAW were to happen to it.

  23. Ryan says:

    To the UAW: you say that thanks to you we at TMMK have the good wages that we enjoy? Thank you! You may go now.

  24. Jason (Admin) says:

    unclesmrgol – Crazy story. I’ve heard stories about poor quality domestics, but that’s crazy.

    I highly doubt TMMK goes union. Since this article has been posted, I’ve received quite a few emails from TMMK members, and most of them are staunchly anti-union. From what I can tell as an outsider, about 20% of the plant is in favor of the UAW…and that number could be as high as 40% depending on worker sentiment. However, the majority of workers seem to be of the opinion that the UAW won’t be able to help them long term.

    Considering the UAWs colossal failure to protect jobs in 2008 – more than 250k union workers lost their jobs – I’d say the UAW lacks credibility when it tells workers it can somehow ‘help’ them.

    Ryan – Thanks for commenting.

    TO ALL – Feel free to email me directly with comments if you are a TMMK team member –

  25. Stewards view says:

    I’ve worked at our plant for the past 29 yrs.
    I’ve seen it all!! Before we went union those
    lazy workers (favorites) were protected by
    by just one example, supervisor discretion.
    They didn’t need any rights because they had
    mine!!! Since choosing to become a union
    I have served as steward from the start. As a
    steward I don’t have the luxury of judgment.
    I have a obligation to represent everyone
    equally. I have taken great pleasure in
    enforcing the rights our contract provides
    our membership equally!! It’s hard to put
    into words the feeling you get when you
    fight for a single mom who is struggling
    to provide for her children. Because a
    supervisor who still thinks supervisor
    discretion is okay, he denies her 24hrs
    of holiday pay because she was late 1
    hour on her last scheduled day prior to
    the holiday caring for her child! By
    having a grievance procedure I was
    able to prove past practice with
    attendance records that I requested
    and the company has to provide.
    Through those records I discovered
    24 instances where the company
    had paid other workers for coming
    in late over the course of 2yrs.
    She recieved her 24hrs of holiday
    pay. Without a grievance procedure
    in place through our contract I
    never would have gotten those
    she recieved her

  26. Jason (Admin) says:

    Steward’s View – I understand where you’re coming from, and I think that you make a good point about the benefits of a union.

    However, for every situation like this there is an equally appalling story about an incompetent worker who benefits from a poorly constructed set of rules. Look no further than the video of UAW workers drinking during lunch hour here:

    It’s an isolated incident, but it exemplifies the fact that, unfortunately, union work rules hurt productivity and are tilted too far in favor of the worker.

  27. Wayne says:

    I just bought a Toyota Camry, and first on my list of criteria for this choice: NOT MADE BY UAW.

    Thank you, TMMK – I really enjoy my car. Knowing that you had pride and a personal investment in making this product makes me appreciate it even more. Having friends who have had nothing but delight with their Kentucky-made Toyotas was a big factor in my decision, too.

    For what it’s worth, I’d get a GM employee discount, but that wasn’t enough to do away with the UAW stain on the GM brand. I’m from Detroit, too, and I consider that unionization will do for the nation exactly what it has done for Detroit – turn it into an incompetent, greedy, corrupt cesspool.

    The UAW doesn’t care about it’s members, and happily throws them under the bus when it suits the organization. I will not trust my life and the safety of my family to someone who’s that resentful of their employer, and capable of the threats and violence I’ve seen lately from every aspect of organized labor.

    You can pretty much bet that for every purchase that I can, I will actively “Look for the Union Fable”, and reject “union made” whenever I can.

    • Tmmk T/M says:

      Don’t take it personally, I do my job and do it well. However, I take no pride in working there or anything else associated with Toyota. I don’t drive their products even though I qualify for a discount.

      A couple of earlier posts said the UAW protects lazy workers. As a line worker, that doesn’t make sense. You have 55 seconds to get the parts on the car. Period. There is no laziness.

      In contrast, I do see people assigned to gravy offline positions for up to 10 years. Not based on seniority, of which I have 20 years worth, but due to sucking up to management. Not in all cases but certainly a lot of them.

      My two cents. Thanks!!

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Google+ 0 Email -- 0 Flares ×