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UAW begins unionizing effort with focus on Toyota in Kentucky. Here's what we know

A Toyota car is driven through the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc. ahead of a visit by Ivanka Trump, presidential advisor, in Georgetown, Ky. on Thursday, March 28, 2019.
A Toyota car is driven through the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc. ahead of a visit by Ivanka Trump, presidential advisor, in Georgetown, Ky. on Thursday, March 28, 2019.

After leading a successful nationwide strike and winning record-high contracts at the Detroit Three automakers — Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Stellantis — the United Auto Workers union is taking a swing at unionizing 13 nonunion automakers operating in the U.S.

One of the union's prime targets is Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky located in Georgetown — 65 miles from the Louisville area Ford plants that saw roughly 9,000 workers at the Kentucky Truck Plant called to strike for two weeks before Ford and the UAW reached an agreement on an $8.8 billion contract. Additionally, the UAW is also targeting Rivian, an electric vehicle manufacturer that has a facility in Shepherdsville.

Shortly after the UAW won contracts with the Detroit-based automakers, Toyota announced it was raising wages for some workers, including employees in Kentucky. As of data from May, the plant employs 9,500 people.

“At Toyota, we take great pride in showing respect for people. We value our employees and their contributions, and we show it by offering robust compensation packages that we continually review to ensure that we remain competitive within the automotive industry,” a statement shared with The Courier Journal on Nov. 1 said of the pay raises.

Here’s what we know about the UAW’s effort to unionize more automakers in Kentucky:

Why does the UAW want to unionize more workers?

Shawn Fain, International President, UAW, speaks to the assembled union members at UAW local 862 on Friday, August 25, 2023
Shawn Fain, International President, UAW, speaks to the assembled union members at UAW local 862 on Friday, August 25, 2023

In an unprecedented move, the UAW is following its historic “stand up” strike with an attempt to “publicly organize the entire non-union auto sector at once.” According to International UAW President Shaw Fain, in a video posted Wednesday, this movement was spurred by the quick response of the foreign and electric vehicle automakers to provide wage increases to their nonunion forces after the contractual wage increase wins from the UAW was shared.

Further, Fain said all autoworkers share similar issues regarding jobs that create a sustainable life for workers.

“To all the autoworkers out there working without the benefits of a union: now it’s your turn,” Fain said. “The money is there. The time is right. And the answer is simple. You don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay your rent or feed your family while the company makes billions. A better life is out there.”

According to the UAW, Toyota's profits are up 30% and CEO pay has increased 125% over the last decade whereas workers have only seen 9% raises. Toyota declined to comment on the UAW organizing efforts.

As for Rivian, the UAW claims the electric vehicle manufacturer workers' pay “lags behind” the Detroit automakers. Rivian declined to comment for this story.

Has the UAW tried to unionize Toyota in Kentucky before?

UAW Local 862 President Todd Dunn. Aug. 14, 2023
UAW Local 862 President Todd Dunn. Aug. 14, 2023

Todd Dunn, the president of UAW Local 862, which represents 12,000 Ford workers at KTP and Louisville Assembly Plant, was part of the UAW’s prior effort to organize Toyota “almost 20 years ago.” Back then, the unionizing effort fell flat, leaving the Japan-based company to remain nonunion.

“For so many years (Toyota) understood and executed that understanding to and through their workers, nonunion, to the level of 'Look, why do you need a union?’” Dunn said. “And it worked really well.”

Despite previous failures to unionize the Georgetown plant, Dunn feels this time is different, noting the UAW Region 8 office, which represents Kentucky, has received phone calls from workers wanting to organize multiple times per day since the UAW strike.

“They've been able to see what we've gone through and what we've been able to achieve,” he said.

What is the UAW organizing process?

Tequila Tinsley joined other members of UAW Local 862 strike Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant on Friday, October 13, 2023.
Tequila Tinsley joined other members of UAW Local 862 strike Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant on Friday, October 13, 2023.

The Detroit Free Press originally reported the UAW organizing process would be as follows:

  • Once 30% of workers at a plant sign union cards on the UAW's website, a committee of plant autoworkers will go public to say the facility is working toward unionizing

  • Once half the workforce signs the cards, a public rally with Fain and other leaders will be held to demonstrate support for union representation

  • After 70% of the workforce has signed the cards, an organizing committee of plant workers will demand the company recognize the union. If it does not, the UAW will file cards with the National Labor Relations Board and take it to a plant vote

Is the UAW trying to unionize other automakers in Kentucky?

A UAW strike sign is put into a fence post in a mostly empty parking lot at Ford’s Kentucky Plant on Friday, October 13, 2023. KTP walked out on Wednesday.
A UAW strike sign is put into a fence post in a mostly empty parking lot at Ford’s Kentucky Plant on Friday, October 13, 2023. KTP walked out on Wednesday.

Along with Toyota and Rivian, Dunn, who is expected to play a role in unionization efforts across the state, said the UAW is also looking to encourage suppliers and other auto-related businesses in Kentucky to organize.

“I think it's just a perfect environment right now … it's just something that's going to continue to grow and I look forward to people to double down on unionizing,” Dunn said.

Dunn, a prominent figure in Kentucky labor who leads the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council and works closely with Gov. Andy Beshear, is expected to hit the organizing trail. He said Fain has already spoken with him regarding organizing in Kentucky.

“Looking at Toyota in Kentucky, they've been around it seems like forever and I think that other auto manufacturing jobs, whether it be building the vehicle, building the parts of the vehicle ... it's important for all those other ... manufacturing facilities to see a big win at Georgetown, because we've tried to organize before and we fell on our face,” Dunn said.

Currently, the UAW has 19 local unions representing more than 20 different units of workers in Kentucky and represents the largest concentration of Ford workers outside of Michigan.

What is Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky?

Toyota RAV4 Logo
Toyota RAV4 Logo

This production facility is the largest vehicle manufacturing plant globally for Toyota. This facility just north of Lexington, produces more than half a million vehicles annually and is known for producing the Toyota Camry, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, and Lexus ES 350. The plant also produces vehicle parts including four-cylinder and V-6 engines, axels, steering components, and more.

Since the plant opened in 1986, Toyota has produced more than 13 million vehicles in Kentucky, The Courier Journal previously reported. Over the past 37 years, the more than 1,300-acre plant has contributed more than $152 million to nonprofits and educational initiatives. Visitors can take a tour of the plant daily Monday through Friday.

In May, Toyota announced it will begin producing a battery electric SUV starting in 2025 at its Kentucky plant. This vehicle is Toyota's first U.S.-built all-electric SUV and will be a three-row SUV.

Contact reporter Olivia Evans at oevans@courier-journal.com or on Twitter at @oliviamevans_

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Kentucky is UAW's next union target

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