By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT, Jan 15 (Reuters) - United Auto Workers President Bob King said on Wednesday that he is confident the U.S. union will be able to organize workers at the Volkswagen AG plant in Tennessee by the time he leaves office in June.
King said talks with Volkswagen officials are continuing apace, but he did not say when or if a vote by the plant’s workers will be held.
A source familiar with the thinking of the Volkswagen board in Germany has said the board will want a worker vote to recognize the UAW as its U.S. union representative.
King, speaking at a conference held in connection with the Detroit auto show, also said he is confident that UAW members will approve a proposed 25-percent dues increase at the union’s convention in June.
This would be the first increase, from two hours per month of worker pay, since 1967. The proposal is to add a half hour of pay per month that will go directly into the union’s strike fund, which King said he will propose be changed to the “strike and defense fund.”
King said that members have been shielded from dues increases because the union has been able to dip into its strike fund to finance attempts to organize the U.S. plants of foreign automakers.
The strike fund has fallen to just over $600 million from a peak of $1 billion, said King, and he wants to get it back to the billion-dollar level.
“If our strike fund gets too low, then that’s going to encourage corporations, I think, to force more confrontations,” King told reporters.
King said he did not expect the 2015 contract negotiations with the three large U.S. automakers to be more difficult than they were in 2011. However, he also said that the fact that Michigan became a right-to-work state last year will cause problems in the talks.
“Honestly, it will make this set of negotiations tougher, not easier,” King said after his prepared remarks at an Automotive News conference.
Michigan’s right-to-work law, which bans making union membership a condition of employment, is similar to those already in effect in 23 other states.
King, as he has in the past, said he wants to eliminate the two-tier wage scale that pays entry-level workers less than veteran UAW-represented employees of General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC, a unit of Fiat SpA .
“The majority of entry-level workers that I’ve talked to understand that they need a strong union to be able to fix that over a period of time and they understand that it’s not going to happen in one contract,” King told reporters.