UAW union membership falls below 500,000


By KEN THOMAS

The union’s assets total $1.25 billion.

WASHINGTON — United Auto Workers union membership has fallen below 500,000 for the first time since World War II, reflecting the massive restructuring undertaken by Detroit’s automakers.

The union reported Friday in a filing with the Labor Department that it had 464,910 members by the end of 2007, compared with 538,448 at the end of 2006. UAW membership peaked in 1979 at 1.5 million but has been dropping ever since.

Mike Smith, director of the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, said the last time the UAW had fewer than 500,000 members was in 1941. By 1945, UAW membership had surpassed one million.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC and their suppliers have cut tens of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs in the last few years as foreign competition and a weak economy have slowed U.S. auto sales.

All three automakers are currently offering buyouts to their UAW-represented hourly workers. In 2006, more than 67,000 hourly workers took buyouts to leave GM and Ford. Chrysler has said it is trying to cut 21,000 of its 45,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs by 2009.

A message was left with a UAW spokesman. The union has said membership levels cited by the Labor Department give a false impression of the union’s size. They typically cite a 12-month average membership that is higher.

The government reports union membership listed Dec. 31.

The union maintained financial health in terms of assets, according to the report, despite a decline in membership and dues. UAW assets fell slightly to about $1.25 billion last year from $1.26 billion in 2006.

Union dues, meanwhile, fell to nearly $169 million in 2007 from $191 million the previous year. In 2004, for example, dues brought in about $206 million, records show.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger saw an increase in salary in 2007, from $145,125 in 2006 to $150,763 last year.

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