* Union dipped heavily into assets during downturn
* UAW President Bob King aims to add members, cut costs
By Bernie Woodall
NEW YORK, May 18 (Reuters) - The United Auto Workers aims to break even by mid-2014, as the American union looks to bolster its political and bargaining clout.
For the past five years, the UAW has relied heavily on selling its war chest of stocks, bonds and property to bridge the gap between its annual funding and costs.
The union believes this approach is untenable in the long run and its goal is to “have it turned around” in two years by adding members and managing costs, UAW President Bob King said in an interview on Friday.
“We are going to be at break-even or beginning to again accumulate resources beyond that” by the UAW’s next convention in June 2014, King told the Thomson Reuters editorial board.
Under UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, the union has improved the way it manages costs, King said. Organizing more dues-paying members will help the UAW turn around its finances.
King declined to comment on the rate at which the union is losing money.
“To run the kind of programs we need to run to rebuild the collective bargaining power, political power, legislative power of the UAW, you have to spend money,” King said. “So we are spending more money than we are taking in right now.”
King’s term as president will end in June 2014, and his successor is expected to be named at the convention.
By that point, he would like to show delegates concrete evidence of the success of his turnaround strategy, he said.
Still, he added that a lot of outside factors will affect the union’s ability to reach its 2014 convention goal.
“We are spending a lot of money, and we’re investing money in organizing,” King said. “And we’re investing money in rebuilding the ability of the UAW to win good contracts and win good legislation for our membership.”
If the union did nothing else, which is unlikely, it could break even by boosting membership by roughly 50 percent.
“We know what amount of workers it would take to balance it,” said King. “You could balance it right now if you organize a couple hundred thousand workers.”
In 2011, the UAW increased its membership by 1 percent to 380,719 members as Detroit’s three automakers added jobs in response to a 10 percent increase in U.S. auto sales.
The current upswing in the U.S. auto industry follows a deep recession that saw the Detroit Three automakers shed jobs and suffer financial losses. The union’s finances also deteriorated.
With assets of more than $1 billion, the UAW is still America’s richest union but the bulk of its wealth is tied up in its strike fund and cannot be tapped at will. As a result, the UAW was forced to sell stocks, bonds and other assets to pay for its day-to-day operations during the most recent U.S. economic downturn as the number of dues-paying members fell.
In the five years from 2007 to 2011, the union has sold nearly $264 million in stocks, bonds and property. By contrast, in the seven years from 2000 to 2006, the union sold $7.3 million.
“We’re blessed that we have an extremely strong reserve at the UAW,” King said.