The United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union—also known as the United Automobile Workers (UAW)–is a labor union mainly comprised of American automobile manufacturing employees but that also includes unionized casino and higher education workers.
The UAW was at the forefront of the American labor movement and used militant strikes and sit-downs to force American car manufacturers to enter into their first labor agreements during the 1930s and 1940s. Over the years, the UAW has lobbied for excessive labor handouts—at one point including a “jobs bank” that paid laid off autoworkers 95 percent of their salary. The UAW also fought for an $80 billion government-funded auto industry bailout that critics claimed was merely a thinly veiled bailout for the UAW. 
Since 2010, the UAW has spent over $87 million on politics and lobbying. The union uses this money to push a left-of-center agenda that includes traditional labor union prerogatives, such as replacing secret-ballot unionization elections with public “card check” and other liberal items including environmentalist manufacturing mandates, tax increases, legal status for millions of illegal immigrants, and laws to ease prison sentencing.
In 2017, a U.S. Justice Department corruption investigation revealed the corporate executives at Fiat Chrysler had illegally paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to UAW executives in exchange for union concessions.
On August 26, 1935 the United Automobile Workers of America held its founding convention as part of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Francis J. Green was appointed the union’s first president.
In October 1935, the AFL’s internal Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO), which was focused on radical left-wing industrial unions including the UAW and led by John L. Lewis, broke away from the AFL to become its own labor federation, known as the Congress of International Organizations (CIO). The CIO was notable for its staunch political support of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Democratic Party.
Homer Martin was elected president of the UAW in April 1936.
Strikes and Militant Labor
In his book The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, author Kevin Boyle wrote that the UAW, as a member of the CIO, was a part of “the labor movement’s militant wing” that “promoted a social democratic program” promising to refashion American class relations. From the late 1930s through the entry of the United States into the Second World War, the UAW used strikes, sit-downs, and other contentious collective actions to force the three major U.S. auto manufacturers (General Motors (GM), Chrysler, and Ford) to enter into the industry’s first union-labor agreements.
Many of these early strikes were marked by violence. According to the Detroit News, during the first GM strike UAW “workers routed the police with water hoses and makeshift industrial-sized slingshots, hurling two-pound metal hinges” and staged forceful attacks that forced GM to sign a contract with the UAW.
Communist Party Ties
The Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) played a major role in building the UAW. In 1943, the communist faction within the UAW “controlled some of the most important posts, including the dictatorship of the union’s Washington office, its research department, and its legal office.” According to Boyle, the communists sought to “institutionalize the party’s place in American political life.” The UAW’s longtime president, Walter Reuther, was elected on a platform in favor of purging communist influence from the union during the late 1940s and 1950s.
The UAW’s membership peaked at close to 1.5 million in 1979. It has since been on a steady decline. In 2008, the union’s membership fell below 500,000 for the first time since 1941. Despite this significant decline in membership, the UAW’s finances have remained relatively steady at over $200 million in revenue per year.
Currently, the union claims to have 400,000 active members in more than 600 local unions and 1,150 contracts with approximately 1,600 employers across the United States and Canada. In 2015, the UAW’s membership included roughly 137,000 workers at the three largest U.S. auto, 10,000 workers in the gaming industry, and 25,000 higher education workers.
Controversies and Scandals
According to Boyle, from the end of World War II through the 1970s the labor movement, typified by the UAW, “occupied a preeminent place in national politics” where “union leaders enjoyed easy access to the White House and Capitol Hill, union activists filled Democratic Party councils, and union dollars finances political campaigns and legislative lobbying efforts.” 
On national political issues, the UAW touts that it has long been a leader in the fight for liberal economic and social policies. The union claims to have “played a vital role in passing” legislation that created burdensome federal regulation, created massive government funded healthcare and welfare programs, and mandated extensive labor handouts.
In 1984, the UAW and GM created the Jobs Bank program, which would pay autoworkers 95 percent of their annual pay in the event they were laid off. According to Automotive News, at its peak the Jobs Bank paid 15,000 individuals to “do nothing all day” and was extremely damaging to the UAW’s public reputation. The UAW eliminated the Jobs Bank program in 2009.
In 2000, the union built an 18-hole golf course that continuously lost money and cost the union $25 million in loans to maintain its operations.
The $80 billion U.S. government-funded bailout of U.S. auto manufacturers General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler has been described as a bailout of the UAW.
Two conservative Wall Street Journal commentators and policy experts wrote, “if the [Obama] administration treated the UAW in the manner required by bankruptcy law, it could have saved U.S. taxpayers $26.5 billion.”
According to the commentators the administration forced the companies to give the UAW’s outstanding $29.9 billion in retirement debts “much higher priority than those of other unsecured creditors” which gave the UAW over $21 billion more in the companies’ bankruptcy bailout than it would have received in a traditional bankruptcy.
Additionally, the commentators noted that the administration’s bailout policies allowed the UAW to avoid a true renegotiation of wages that would have reduced the companies’ labor costs by an estimated $4 billion and brought them in line with their foreign rivals’ costs.
President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Treasury Department auto advisor (popularly known as “car czar”), Steve Rattner, acknowledged the UAW’s lack of significant wage concessions. He said, “We should have asked the UAW to do a bit more. We did not ask any UAW member to take a cut in their pay.”
Fiat Chrysler Contract Corruption
In January 2018, the wife of a deceased high-ranking UAW official pleaded guilty to tax fraud in relation to “an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into alleged misspending at UAW union training centers.”  According to previous court documents, employees at Fiat Chrysler illegally funneled nearly $5 million dollars to charities controlled by UAW officials in order to obtain concessions from the UAW in collective bargaining agreements between the automaker and the union.
In 2016 the UAW took in $261 million and spent $99 million on union “representational activities.”
In 2017 the UAW escalated its organizing efforts against several automakers including Nissan and Tesla while waging “a fierce legal battle with Volkswagen.”
The UAW has sought to marry their labor organizing efforts with the liberal “global social justice” campaign. In March 2017 help a rally at the Mississippi Nissan plant led by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), NAACP President Cornell Brooks and left-wing actor Danny Glover. 
However, the UAW “lost big time” in its effort to unionize the Nissan plant as workers voted almost 2 to 1 against union representation.
The union also launched new corporate campaigns against both Nissan and Volkswagen.According to labor policy analyst F. Vincent Vernuccio: “the UAW is engaging in an ongoing corporate campaign against foreign auto makers who build cars in Southern states, where the vast majority of workers are not organized.” 
Also see Elon Musk
In September 2017, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Tesla charging that the company had impeded attempts to promote unionization by the UAW. Tesla called the charges “baseless.”
Political and Lobbying Activity
Since 2010, the UAW has spent $87.5 million on political and lobbying activities and has doled out nearly $12 million in contributions and grants to other left-of-center organizations. In that time, the UAW has disclosed over $17 million worth of federal lobbying expenses.
The organization has used its political weight to publicly advocate and lobby for a number of left-of-center priorities. This agenda includes a number of traditional labor items such as passage of the card-check bill (which would replace private secret-ballot votes on whether to unionize) and an expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act.
The union also claims to have “been at the forefront fighting” for liberal “social change” and has supported Obamacare, burdensome financial regulations, and environmentalist-driven auto manufacturing mandates.
In 2016, the union’s extensive left-of-center policy agenda included environmentalist regulations that seek to limit domestically manufactured fossil fuel consumption. The platform also called for legal status for almost all illegal immigrants, and sentencing laws that allow some criminals to avoid prison. The union also supported multiple tax increases, supporting a tax on financial transactions and policies that raise the estate (or “death”) tax.
However, the Wall Street Journal reported that the UAW’s $13.2 million in political spending during the 2016 election cycle was less than 50% of “the $29.9 million spent in 2012 during President Obama’s reelection campaign.”
Gary Jones, a former regional director of the UAW council covering the Gulf and West Coasts and interior Great Plains states, was nominated for UAW president by the union’s dominant internal faction in 2017 and took office after the UAW’s 2018 convention.
Jones replaced Dennis Williams. Williams has been a member of the UAW since 1977 and previously served as the UAW Region 4 Director, which included many mid-western states from Illinois to Wyoming.