* UAW says in ‘confidential’ talks with foreign carmakers
* Toyota, Honda, BMW deny talks with union over US plants
* VW U.S. plant execs also deny talks with UAW
* Nissan, Hyundai decline to comment (Adds comment from Toyota official)
By Bernie Woodall
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich., Aug 3 (Reuters) - The United Auto Workers union is in talks with most of the foreign automakers in the United States to represent the hourly workers at their U.S. assembly plants, the union chief said on Wednesday.
“The vast majority of the assemblers here in the United States have at least agreed to confidential discussions,” UAW President Bob King said at an industry conference in Traverse City, Michigan. “We’ve had productive discussions. The last thing we want is confrontation.”
The language marks an escalation of claims about an organizing effort that King and other UAW leaders see as key to the union’s survival. None of the seven major Asian or European automakers with plants in the United States has confirmed talks with the union that many industry leaders have blamed for the Detroit automakers’ uncompetitiveness in past years.
Despite King’s comments, several foreign automakers with U.S. plants denied they were in talks with the union,
King has said the future of the union depends on its ability to unionize workers at U.S. plants owned by Asian and European automakers. The companies are called “transplants” in industry parlance.
The UAW represents hourly workers at the three U.S. automakers: General Motors Co (GM.N), Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Fiat FIA.MI-controlled Chrysler. Last week, the union opened talks with those companies for new labor deals.
The union has not been successful in getting any of the non-U.S. automakers to agree to allow organizers into their U.S. plants. A renewed effort to represent workers at those plants was announced at last year’s conference in Traverse City hosted by the Center for Automotive Research.
UAW executives previously told Reuters the union was talking with a lot of transplants and could see a deal by year-end. King on Wednesday reiterated the target for reaching its first deal beyond the Detroit three automakers. [ID:nN1E76J0DY]
UAW membership has dropped steadily since its peak in 1979 when it had almost 1.5 million members. Membership has fallen 42 percent since 2004 to about 377,000 at the end of last year.
Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) senior managing officer Real “Ray” Tanguay, said that perhaps the discussions between the foreign automakers and the UAW are not as serious as Bob King would lead the press to believe.
“I think it’s mostly in the greeting format,” Tanguay told reporters in Traverse City. “I don’t know of any negotiations between our company and the UAW.”
The UAW has been reported in talks with German automaker Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), which just opened a plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but plant executives said they have had no such talks. The executives did not know whether corporate officials in Germany had been in talks with the union. [ID:nN1E7700R2]
VW spokesman Scott Vazin said the company does not disclose talks with third parties.
Honda Motor Co (7267.T) spokesman Ed Miller denied the Japanese automaker was in talks with the UAW. “Honda’s had no dialogue with the UAW and we have no interest in a discussion with them,” he said.
BMW (BMWG.DE) spokesman Kenn Sparks also denied any talks. “BMW has had no discussions with the UAW on this subject.”
Officials with other foreign automakers with U.S. assembly plants -- Daimler’s (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai-controlled Kia Motors (000270.KS) -- could not immediately be reached. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Traverse City, Michigan; writing and additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by John Wallace, Dave Zimmerman, Gary Hill)