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United Auto Workers might target car dealerships — and customers

November 28, 2011 |  7:24 am

The United Auto Workers have had a hard time convincing workers in the South's burgeoning auto industry that they should join a union. Now the UAW is considering taking the argument directly to consumers via so-called informational picketing at car dealerships.

The Tennessean newspaper reports today that the UAW has begun training regional organizers to "educate" potential car buyers as they walk onto new car lots. The effort, the paper's C. Chambers Williams III writes, wouldn't be as "intense" as the traditional picketing actions that try to dissuade anyone from entering a factory.

"Informational picketing is one of the things we're looking at," UAW vice president Joe Ashton told the Tennessean. "Not actually picketing a dealership, but giving out information about why it would be important for that particular transplant" -- that is, a foreign auto maker -- "to be union."

The Southeast's auto industry now accounts for about half of the vehicles made in the U.S., according to The Times' Jerry Hirsch. Foreign manufacturers -- Honda, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen -- have been lured to states like Alabama and Tennessee thanks to government incentives and lower labor costs in the historically anti-union region.

The once-mighty UAW has been on the ropes in recent years, battered by the recession, the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler and the shuttering of dozens of factories. The union's membership has fallen 46% since 2007.

The union hasn't decided which of the foreign manufacturers it plans to target first. Car dealers, meanwhile, are less than thrilled about the idea.

"Those employees have chosen so far not to be unionize, but instead of presenting a better program, the union wants to go put pressure on local small businesses," said Rocky Henderson, owner of a Tennessee Volkswagen dealership.


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Photo: Workers inspect the doors of a Passat inside a new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Credit: Billy Weeks / Associated Press