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Troy, MO-based Toyota plant auto workers launch campaign to unionize

The United Auto Workers Local 2250 headquarters in Wentzville.
Clara Bates
Missouri Independent
The United Auto Workers Local 2250 headquarters in Wentzville.

More than 30% of workers at a Troy-based Toyota manufacturing plant have signed union cards, prompting them to go public with their campaign on Wednesday to join the United Auto Workers union.

Troy is the first Toyota plant nationally where workers have gone public with a union drive — and the latest in a string of non-union plants seeking to join the UAW after it won record contracts late last year for the Big Three U.S.-based auto manufacturers that included raises of at least 25% over four years.

There are over 1,000 workers at the Toyota plant in Troy, an exurb of St. Louis, which manufactures a crucial car part, called aluminum cylinder heads. The plant makes the cylinder heads for every Toyota engine built in North America.

“When people say Toyota engines last forever, here in Troy, Missouri, we know what makes it possible,” workers say in a UAW video announcing the campaign, “Our hands, our backs, our knees, our work. We carry the proof every day.”

The reasons for seeking to unionize, according to the UAW’s video, include safety concerns and wages lower than their UAW counterparts and Toyota plants in other states.

“The plant is not safe,” Jaye Hochuli, a team leader at the Troy plant, is quoted as saying in the UAW press release. “They had me crawl under a deck to clean out the sand and silica dust and chemicals that come out of the machines…I should’ve been in a respirator and a hazmat suit. All they gave me was a KN-95 mask.”

“…How can the richest car company in the world not follow basic safety practices? We’re organizing to fix what’s wrong and win the protection we need,” Hochuli added.

The plant production workers make around $4 an hour less than production workers in Big Three facilities organized by the UAW, according to the union’’s press release.

“Seeing the new contracts with the Big Three, that’s when I realized we needed a union,” Charles Lashley, a team member in Troy, is quoted as saying in the press release. “…Toyota makes more money than all the Big Three. So there’s no reason why we should be so far behind. The company can’t run without us. We should get paid like it.”

After winning record contracts for the Big Three Detroit-based auto plants, the UAW announced late last year that it was starting a large-scale push to unionize the non-union auto sector in 13 companies, which are made up of around 150,000 workers.

“When we return to the bargaining table in 2028,” said UAW president Shawn Fain, “it won’t just be with the Big Three, but with the Big Five or Big Six.”

The Troy announcement comes on the heels of public unionization campaigns launched at the non-union Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mercedes in Vance, Ala. and Hyundai in Montgomery, Ala.

Over 10,000 non-union autoworkers have signed union cards and workers at over two dozen other plants are continuing to organize, according to the union.

Late last year, after a six week strike, UAW workers ratified contracts with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis that increased pay by 25% over four years, reinstated cost of living adjustments, and added a sped up path to increased wages. A Wentzville-based GM plant in Missouri had been among the first to strike.

Publicizing their union drive is the first phase in organization efforts. The union said they will make drives public once 30% of workers have signed union cards. At 50% of workers, they will hold a rally with UAW president Shawn Fain. At 70% of workers, they will seek voluntary recognition of the union, and if the company doesn’t agree, will file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.

Ed Hellwig, a Toyota spokesperson, told The Independent, regarding the safety and wage concerns expressed in the video and press release: “These comments and views do not reflect the overwhelming majority of our team members and much of it is misleading and inaccurate.”

“At Toyota, team member safety is the top priority. Our safety record at our North American operations is among the best in the industry. Over the last four years, our North American manufacturing total incident rate has been reduced considerably.”

He added that the starting wage at Toyota Missouri is $21 per hour for production team members. Starting wage for skilled team members is $32 per hour. Both are up around 12% since March of last year, he said. Toyota generally announces wage increases twice per year and the next increase will be announced next week, he added.

“We are always looking at many factors to ensure we remain competitive in the market and adjust our compensation and benefits appropriately,” he said, and Toyota is “among the few companies” that provides medical benefits to retirees and spouses.

“Despite the ups and downs in the North American auto industry, Toyota has consistently provided long-term, secure and steady employment for all its manufacturing team members.

“Our philosophy has been and will continue to be to provide all of our team members with dependable, stable and long-term employment.”

In November, after the Big Three contracts were finalized, Toyota announced they would raise wages by 9%.

This story originally appeared in The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty for The Missouri Independent.