Mission Impossible: Finding a Mini-Van Made in America by Union Workers

minivan assemblyLast year, not one of the 491,687 new minivans sold in the United States was made in America by unionized workers. There were no union made minivans to be found.

Some were manufactured overseas by companies owned by non-American manufacturers. The Kia Sedona, with 24,047 sales, was built in South Korea, Russia, and the Philippines. The MAZDA5, with 19,155 sales, was built in China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Some minivans from Japanese companies were built in the U.S., but by non-unionized workers. Honda sold 107,068 Odysseys built in Alabama. Toyota Siennas, built in Indiana, went to 111,429 persons. The Nissan Quest, built in Ohio, had 12,199 sales

Only three minivans were built by unionized workers, but they were made in Canada by members of the Canadian Auto Workers. The Dodge Grand Caravan, with 110,996 sales; Chrysler Town & Country, with 94,320 sales; and the VW Routan, with 12,473 sales, all share the same basic body; most differences are cosmetic. GM and Ford no longer produce minivans.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) suggests that members who wish to buy minivans buy one of the three Chrysler products because much of the parts are manufactured in the United States by UAW members.

All cars, trucks, and vans from GM, Ford, and Chrysler are produced by union workers in the U.S. or Canada. The Japanese-owned Mitsubishi Eclipse, Spyder, and Galant, and the Mazda6 are produced in the U.S. under UAW contracts; neither company makes minivans. All vehicles produced in the U.S. have the first Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as a 1, 4, or 5; vehicles produced in Canada have a 2 as the first VIN number.

Founded in 1935, the UAW quickly established a reputation for creating the first cost-of-living allowances (COLAs) and employer-paid health care programs. It helped pioneer pensions, supplementary unemployment benefits, and paid vacations.

It has been at the forefront of social and economic justice issues; Walter Reuther, its legendary president between 1946 and his death in 1970, marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, and helped assure that the UAW was one of the first unions to allow minorities into membership and to integrate the workforce. Bob King, its current president, a lawyer, was arrested for civil disobedience, carrying on the tradition of the social conscience that has identified the union and its leadership.

The UAW doesn’t mind that corporations make profits; it does care when some of the profit is at the expense of the worker, for without a competent and secure work force, there would be no profit. When the economy failed under the Bush–Cheney administration, and the auto manufacturers were struggling, the UAW recognized it was necessary for the workers to take pay cuts and make other concessions for the companies to survive.

But not all corporations have the social conscience that the UAW and the “Big 3” auto manufacturers developed. For decades, American corporations have learned that to “maximize profits,” “improve the bottom line,” and “give strength to shareholder stakes” they could downsize their workforce and ship manufacturing throughout the world. Our companies have outsourced almost every form of tech support, as well as credit card assistance, to vendors whose employees speak varying degrees of English, but tell us their names are George, Barry, or Miriam. Clothing, toys, and just about anything bought by Americans could be made overseas by children working in abject conditions; their parents might make a few cents more, and in certain countries would be thrilled to earn less than half the U.S. minimum wage.

Americans go along with this because they think they are getting their products cheaper. What they don’t want to see is the working conditions of those who are employed by companies that are sub-contractors to the mega-conglomerates of American enterprise. These would be the same companies whose executives earn seven and eight-figure salaries and benefits, while millions are unemployed.

But, Americans don’t care. After all, we’re getting less expensive products, even if what we buy is cheaply made because overseas managers, encouraged by American corporate executives, lower the quality of materials and demand even more work from their employees.

walter braschWalk into almost every department store and Big Box store, and it’s a struggle to find clothes, house supplies, and entertainment media made in America. If you do find American-made products, they are probably produced in “right-to-work” states that think unionized labor is a Communist-conspiracy to destroy the free enterprise system of the right to make obscene profits at the expense of the working class.

We can wave flags and tell everyone how much more patriotic we are than them, but we still can’t buy a minivan made in America by unionized workers—even when the price is lower than that of the non-unionized competition.

Walter Brasch

[Sales figures of minivans are from Edmunds.com. Also assisting was Rosemary Brasch. Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which looks at the mass media, social justice, and the labor movement. The book is available from amazon, local bookstores, andhttp://www.greeleyandstone.com in both hard copy or an ebook.]


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    The article ends: “we still can’t buy a minivan made in America by unionized workers—even when the price is lower than that of the non-unionized competition.”

    This conclusion makes utter hash of the article. 

    The rest of the article claims that a certain kind of thing X (a minivan made in America by unionized workers) does not exist at  all.  But then the last part of the sentence here (the ‘even when…’ part) implies that a bargain-priced version of X does exist. 

    Exactly WHAT is Brasch referring to whose ‘price is lower than that of the non-unionized competition’? 

  2. says

    Great article Walter ;

    I am also pleased to see some folks here are Gear Heads , I am too & have been since childhood , I’m a Journeyman Mechanic by trade , I only own Foreign cars but my truck is a 1969 Chevy because I need a reliable truck I can depend on that’s roomy , same reason I drive Foreign cars , they’re better made and cheaper to own & operate over the long run ~ My old Mercedes Diesel Sports Coupe has well over 360,000 miles and just got it’s first engine overhaul .

    I make a point of not shopping at wallymart for the reasons you mentioned .

    I’m a pround Union Member (SIEU 721) who’s nearing retirement , I hope to be able to afford a nice cardboard box to live in if/when I retire .

  3. Steve Lamb says

    Hwood 007- My other car is a beater 1938 Buick. Bone stock. 450,000 miles that I can document and a lot before then. One set of rings 20 years ago. She was .005 over. Made by unionized American Workers. Is that long lasting enough for you? Back when Made in America was the pride of the world, back when corporate managers were loyal to something beyond the shareholders profits for this week.

  4. Steve Lamb says

    I’m building a 1940 ford hot rod truck in my garage. I’m having a DEVIL of a time buying anything for it made in America. The wheel bearings in my disc brake conversion? Made in Mexico. The rotors/ Made in Taiwan, the calipers? Made in China, but they charged me like it was made as a one off by American Union Workers. I chose the transmission because when I chose it, the thing was made in America. Six monthes later when I bought it, made in Mexico and the PRICE WENT UP 15%!!!!  Can’t buy an American made crankshaft or rods that will hold 600 HP all the forged units are made in China, even the ones GM sells. The Swiss make the carburetors. The headers are no longer made in Orange County but in Mexico, and yeah the PRICE IS UP since the move. The wiring harness is made in New England, and at the price I paid, the workers better be unionized!

    We are getting raped by the corporatocracy.

  5. Hwood007 says

    I thought I might say that I lost some money (in the form of bonds) when a car company went belly up.  I found that event to smack of fraud, it did not follow the correct process.  I did not just loose my asset, but somehow the union received my asset.  A normal bankrupcty is not done the way the auto company bailouts were done. I now look to the future and my next auto will not be built by a American auto company that received taxpayer help in a bankrupcty, I already paid them once.

  6. Hwood007 says

    I buy autos based on how long they last and not how long it took to make it.  I do not look for the union label as I see that as a zero indicator of how long the product will last.  I research my purchase before buying it in several ways. I did not see where you raised the idea of  my cost.  Do you think I should buy a union label no matter the cost?

    I own a 2001 Honda  Odyssey, vin is 2.  I also own a 1996 F150.

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