When Bob King became president of the UAW in 2010, one of his objectives was to rebuild the union's image, and one of the ways he did that was by going abroad, even though the organization had been battered by the Great Recession in the U.S.

While tangible results are slim, King, who will step down in early June, contends his extensive travels in Europe and Asia have increased the UAW’s visibility and brought unions representing auto workers around the globe closer together in the fight for workers’ rights.

"We have really dramatically raised the profile of the UAW in Europe and elsewhere,” King says in an interview, while acknowledging he was disappointed by the union’s recent defeat in an organizing drive at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN.

Nevertheless, the increased visibility has helped the UAW shine a light on what King describes as the abuse of workers’ rights in the South, where he says employees wanting to unionize have been faced with interference from company management.

“It's one of the things that I feel really good about,” King tells WardsAuto of his forays overseas. “I think that will pay benefits long term in helping the UAW in organizing the transnationals and keeping auto jobs middle-class jobs.”

It also has become much easier for him to make the case that a non-union plant in the U.S. is a threat to the jobs and incomes of auto workers in such places as Germany and Brazil.

“Before unions, auto jobs weren't middle-class jobs,” notes King, who has been active in the UAW for 45 years, ever since he went to work for Ford.

The German metalworkers union, IG Metall, and the Volkswagen Works Council, which includes representatives of the company's 500,000 employees around the world, continue to support the UAW's efforts to organize VW's Chattanooga plant, where the union lost a 712-626 ratification vote in February. The UAW is eyeing another round of voting sometime next year.

"They have been very supportive and continue to be very supportive," King says of the German groups.

While union organizers have been held at bay at Nissan’s Canton, MS, plant, the UAW has succeeded in maintaining pressure while educating unions from around the world about the difficulties of organizing plants in the South, despite international treaties that guarantee workers everywhere the right to join unions.

"Union-busting in the United States is a billion-dollar industry," King says, noting that during the past four years the UAW has brought union members, students and political activists from around the world to speak with workers in places such as Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.

"They were frankly shocked with what they saw," he says.