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UAW’s King Joins Opel Supervisory Board

An ulterior motive?

by on Mar.30, 2012

UAW President Bob King.

Bob King, the President of the United Auto Workers Union, is taking on a new role as member of the supervisory board of Adam Opel AG, General Motors’ principal European subsidiary.

King was appointed Wednesday by IG Metall, the German’s metalworkers union, to serve as a representative on Opel AG’s Supervisory Board as a labor representiative – unions typical hold such seats in Germany but bringing onboard an American labor labor is a unique move. King’s appointment is effective June 1, UAW spokeswoman Michele Martin confirmed.

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King’s appointment to the supervisory board, which under German law has the authority to hire and fire Opel’s management and challenge its strategy, thrusts him into the middle of complicated negotiations between GM and Opel on one wide and IG Metall on the other.

After losing over $700 million last year, compounding a decade of losses, Opel is readying a turnaround plan expected to call for the closing of one, and possibly two of its assembly plants.  One is, in turn, likely to be in Germany.

The German metalworkers union has reiterated recently it would not agree to the plant closing demanded by GM as part of the effort to restructure Opel.

King’s presence on the board was quietly promoted by GM which had worked closely with him during the restructuring of the company in the U.S. in 2009 and 2010, following its emergence from bankruptcy. King also was the union’s top negotiator in 2011 when the union agreed to forego raises for most hourly employees at GM – as well as at Ford and Chrysler.

He also has worked closely in the past with Steven Girsky, the GM vice chairman and the chairman of the Opel Supervisory Board, who is pushing to reorganize Opel’s money losing operations.

King, however, also bring his own agenda to the board , including forging closer ties with European unions as part of his effort to organize workers at non-union plants operated by Asian and German automakers in the Southern U.S., including the new Volkswagen facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee and the Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

In recent months, the UAW has avoided the spotlight since King first outlined the strategy at the union’s bargaining convention nearly a year ago.

The UAW has joined the campaign against Alabama’s restrictive immigration law — House Bill 59 — which requires non-U.S. citizens to have proper papers and identification on them at all time or face arrest.

The union has used the furor over that law to put pressure on Hyundai, another automaker operating in Alabama.  Members joined in during a recent protest staged during the Korean maker’s annual shareholders meeting.

The protest at the Hyundai shareholders meeting also was supported by Korea’s largest labor unions, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean Metal Workers Union, as well as KMWU Hyundai Motor Branch.

The UAW appears to be hoping that the common bond will lead traditionally activist Korean labor leaders to lend support to the effort to organize the Hyundai and Kia plants in the States.

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