UAW Begins Picketing Toyota Dealers in California, New York

Last month, the United Auto Workers union elected Bob King to succeeded Ron Gettelfinger as the organization’s new president. During the convention, King was criticized by some rank and file union members for advocating it concede to Ford Motor Company’s request for a no-strike clause in its contract with workers.

Following his election, however, King said he would bring a new tone of activism to the union. “The greatest anti-poverty tool there is, is a strong union,” he said.

On Monday, King announced that active and retired union members have begun picketing Toyota dealerships in California and New York. The protests, he said, are to bring attention to Toyota’s closing of the New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California and to pressure it to allow unionization of its other U.S. plants.

Appearing at a press conference in Detroit, King was joined by Reverend Jesse Jackson and other local clergy. King, who refers to the protest activities as “bannering” said, “California is probably the largest place, but I was in New York three weeks ago, and a local union was bannering.”

Toyota closed NUMMI after the plant’s joint venture partner, General Motors Company, pulled out following last year’s bankruptcy reorganization. Last month, electric vehicle startup, Tesla Motors Incorporated, announced that it will reopen the facilities through an agreement with Toyota, and plans to hire up to 1,000 workers.

Following his election as the UAW’s new president last month, King announced that the union would begin picketing Toyota dealerships. King drew sharp criticism from American International Automobile Dealers Association president Cody Lusk, who called the announcement “inflammatory.” Lusk said “attacking small businesses” would be detrimental to the union’s efforts to grow its membership. UAW membership has fallen from a high of 1.5 members in 1979 to only 355,000. In a statement, Lusk said, “A picket line will only hurt the dealership, its employees and the community it serves.  An assault on America’s auto retail industry will only serve to highlight the disconnect between the UAW and reality.”

Reverend Jesse Jackson said his Rainbow PUSH Coalition has joined the UAW and other unions and activist organizations to support labor and advocate urban revitalization and fair trade practices. He said the coalition will kick off its efforts with a campaign for jobs, justice and peace to be held in Detroit on August 28. He said the event will serve as a springboard for a much larger march to be held in Washington D.C. on October 2.

Jackson also said he supports the UAW in its efforts to unionize Toyota and other overseas automakers with U.S. manufacturing facilities.

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