by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A veteran autoworker has launched a new group to encourage reform at his former union.
Terry Bowman, a Ford line worker who spent decades as a dues-paying member of the United Auto Workers union, has long criticized the labor organization for its political activities. He is now attempting to take that criticism nationwide with the group Moving Unions Forward.
Bowman said the organization aims to move unions toward a direction focused on employees and membership, rather than the organization’s influence.
“As a longtime union member, I understand the pitfalls of union representation better than most,” Bowman said in a release. “The UAW’s 20th-century organizing model has failed to gain traction with employees because they understand that the union’s agenda is often not their agenda.”
The UAW has made steady gains in membership as the automotive industry recovered from the Great Recession, which saw GM, Chrysler, and their auto suppliers lay off thousands of workers. It represented about 416,000 workers in 2016, according to federal labor filings, up from 355,000 in 2009.
Despite those recent gains the UAW has still suffered dramatic losses in membership: it represented more than 700,000 autoworkers in 2002.
The union has launched ambitious campaigns to organize workers in right to work states, which have attracted substantial investment from foreign automakers. Those campaigns have failed. Workers at a Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen plant and a Canton, Miss., Nissan factory voted against joining the union in 2014 and 2017, respectively.