In the wake of the mass downsizing of the domestic auto industry, the United Auto Workers union has seen its ranks thinned considerably despite its outreach efforts. The union also suffers from image issues, which spring from its historically combative relationship with management at Ford Motor, General Motors and Chrysler Group.

Under the leadership of Bob King, who was elected union president last June, the UAW is now taking a different tact, including expressing willingness to work with employers.

Speaking in Detroit on Wednesday, King told those gathered for the Automotive News World Congress that working with the union today is a smart business decision, the Detroit Free Press reported. "The UAW has learned from the past and we have embraced radical change," King said. "We have completely discarded the 'us versus them' mentality."

Back to War

King was less magnanimous in discussing foreign-owned automakers that operate nonunion factories in the U.S. The union chief said the UAW intends to play tough with Toyota Motor (TM), Honda Motor (HMC), BMW and others if the companies don't agree to the secret-ballot election principles that the union supports, the Associated Press reported.

Manufacturers that don't sign on to the ideals will be branded as human-rights violators, King said. The union has had little success organizing workers at the factories, which were built mainly in southern states, such as South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky.

Backed by a $800 million war chest, King is pushing forward with a campaign to unionize plants operated by German and Asian companies. The effort includes a set of 11 organizing principles that the union wants companies to agree to.

The principles would ensure fair elections free from intimidation and misinformation on the part of both companies and the union, according to King.

The push to unionize foreign-based automakers comes as the UAW is soon to begin negotiations with GM (GM), Ford (F) and Chrysler to renew labor contracts that expire in September.

The union, which boasted as many as 1.5 million members at its peak in 1979, had fewer than 400,000 members at the end of 2009.

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