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UAW launches bid to organize Tesla and 'entire non-union auto sector'

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United Auto Workers union said on Wednesday it is launching a first-of-its-kind push to publicly organize the entire nonunion auto sector after winning new contracts with the Detroit Three automakers.

The Detroit-based UAW said workers at 13 nonunion automakers were announcing simultaneous campaigns across the country to join the union, including at Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Rivian, Nissan, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Those automakers employ nearly 150,000 workers at their U.S. assembly plants, about the same number as those employed by the Detroit Three companies with which the UAW just signed new labor agreements, the union said.

"To all the auto workers out there working without the benefits of a union, now it's your turn," UAW President Shawn Fain said in a video posted on a website urging auto workers to sign electronic cards seeking union representation.

"The money is there. The time is right," he added. "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."

The UAW's deals with General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis included a 25% increase in base wages through 2028, cut the time needed to reach top pay to three years from eight years, boosted the pay of temporary workers by 150% and made them permanent employees.

The UAW detailed its organizing strategy. The union said if 30% of workers at a nonunion plant sign cards seeking to join, it would make that public. If 50% of workers seek to join, the UAW would hold a rally with Fain to tout the effort. At 70% and with an organizing committee in place, the UAW would seek recognition or demand a union representation vote.

The UAW effort with the nonunion automakers echoes the approach it took with the Detroit Three, where the union negotiated simultaneously with all three in reaching an agreement after a six-week strike.

The push comes as several foreign automakers have announced significant pay and other compensation improvements in response to the UAW contracts in a move many analysts and industry officials saw as an effort to keep the UAW out of their plants.

U.S. President Joe Biden this month backed the UAW in its quest to unionize other carmakers. "I want this type of contract for all auto workers and I have a feeling the UAW has a plan for that," he said at an event with Fain.

The UAW for decades has unsuccessfully sought to organize auto factories operated by foreign automakers. Efforts to organize Nissan plants in Mississippi and Tennessee failed by wide margins, and two attempts to organize VW's plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, failed by a closer margin.

The new UAW organizing site - UAW.org/join - echoes the group's criticism of the Detroit Three automakers during its contract push, including noting corporate profits and CEO pay.

The website asks Tesla workers to join, saying CEO "Elon Musk is the richest man in the world, with a net worth of $230 billion. U.S. production has more than doubled since 2020, and Tesla’s sales are booming. The question is, will Tesla workers get their fair share?"

The UAW said one of its strongest campaigns was at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky, assembly complex, where 7,800 workers build the Camry, RAV4 and Lexus ES. Union officials have repeatedly pointed to Toyota as a top target.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis)

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