The United Auto Workers union is making inroads in northwestern Michigan. Recently, it has won organizing votes or contracts with three large auto suppliers in the Traverse City area — Tower Automotive Inc., Eagle Picher and a large Lear Corp. plant (formerly United Technologies Automotive).

Tower Automotive Inc. supplies millions of parts such as steering column brackets, structural members and shock tower assemblies to dozens of global customers from its Traverse City plant, which employs about 350 hourly workers. Ford was its biggest customer, but insiders say Toyota Motor Corp.'s assembly plants in the U.S. and Canada is what's keeping the factory humming right now. The company also supplies components for Ford's new X-type “baby Jag” Jaguar.

Following numerous attempts to organize at Tower in Traverse City, workers voted to be represented by the union last summer. After being threatened by a walkout, Tower management finally inked a contract with the UAW in late June, a week after a contract was agreed upon at a Tower plant in Clinton Township, MI.

In late May, a majority of workers at Eagle Picher in Traverse City voted to join the UAW by a 183-103 margin in a National Labor Relations Board election.