Union is fac­ing worker push­back at Tenn. VW plant

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY TIM DE­VANEY

A United Auto Work­ers drive to or­ga­nize work­ers at the Volk­swa­gen Pas­sat plant in Ten­nessee is turn­ing into a crit­i­cal bat­tle in la­bor’s drive to breach the wall of for­eign au­tomak­ers who have flocked to the Amer­i­can South and other right-to-work states in re­cent years to open nonunion plants.

But in a twist of typ­i­cal la­bor-man­age­ment game plan, the UAW fight is not with the Ger­man-owned Volk­swa­gen, where some ex­ec­u­tives have in­di­cated they are more will­ing to work with the union, but with the plant’s work­ers, Ten­nessee state of­fi­cials and anti-la­bor ad­vo­cacy groups who fear the prece­dent a suc­cess­ful or­ga­niz­ing drive could set.

The UAW, which claims it al­ready has signed up a ma­jor­ity of the plant’s work­ers for the union, is fac­ing push­back from a group of Volk­swa­gen em­ploy­ees who are skep­ti­cal of the la­bor move­ment and are not so fond of the idea of union­iz­ing. The Na­tional Right to Work Le­gal De­fense Foun­da­tion has taken up the fight on be­half of th­ese em­ploy­ees, fil­ing two sep­a­rate com­plaints ac­cus­ing the UAW and Volk­swa­gen of col­lud­ing to union­ize the plant in Chat­tanooga.

Both sides say the ul­ti­mate stakes are far big­ger than one fac­tory in Ten­nessee. Global au­tomak­ers in­clud­ing Toy­ota, Honda and Kia in Asia and Ger­many’s Volk­swa­gen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have flocked to the United States in re­cent years, set­ting up shop ex­clu­sively in states with­out strong union or­ga­niz­ing laws. UAW Pres­i­dent Bob King has said suc­cess­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion at th­ese for­eign “trans­plants” is crit­i­cal to the union’s long-term sur­vival.

“If we com­plete Volk­swa­gen and get an agree­ment there, that will help with all the other trans­plants,” Mr. King told the mag­a­zine Au­to­mo­tive News this month. “Volk­swa­gen would be a real break­through in Amer­i­can la­bor-man­age­ment re­la­tions.”

Ten­nessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker, a fel­low Repub­li­can, are among the state’s of­fi­cials who have come out strongly against the UAW or­ga­niz­ing drive.

Mr. Corker, a for­mer mayor of Chat­tanooga who helped lure the plant to the city, said he was so strongly op­posed to the union in part be­cause of the “lack of con­cern” he saw from la­bor lead­ers when Gen­eral Mo­tors and Chrysler needed a last­minute tax­payer bailout in 2008 and 2009 to avoid col­lapse.

“I’ve seen what a de­struc­tive force the UAW is within auto com­pa­nies,” Mr. Corker said. “I just can­not tell you how big of a neg­a­tive im­pact the UAW would have on our com­mu­nity in terms of at­tract­ing fu­ture busi­ness. Com­pa­nies have left Detroit be­cause of the neg­a­tive im­pact the UAW has had in the re­gion.”

In one sense, Mr. Corker agrees with Mr. King about what’s at stake: If the Volk­swa­gen plant is union­ized, “then it’s BMW, then it’s Mercedes, then it’s Nis­san, hurt­ing the en­tire South­east if they get mo­men­tum,” the se­na­tor told Au­to­mo­tive News.

The twist in the Ten­nessee script is that the UAW fi­nally may have found a re­cep­tive part­ner in Volk­swa­gen to help it es­tab­lish its long-sought beach­head in the South.

Some ex­ec­u­tives at the Ger­man au­tomaker have said they would like to form a Euro­pean-style works coun­cil, which would give em­ploy­ers a di­rect and reg­u­lar fo­rum to dis­cuss job-re­lated is­sues with work­ers. But in the U.S., la­bor law an­a­lysts say, such a coun­cil would not be legally pos­si­ble with­out or­ga­niz­ing a union to ne­go­ti­ate em­ploy­ees’ con­tracts. This has left the door open for the UAW.

“In Ger­many, Volk­swa­gen is like, ‘We deal with unions all the time. It’s just the way you do busi­ness. It’s no big deal,’” said Mark Mix, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Right to Work Le­gal De­fense Foun­da­tion. “‘What can be so bad about it in the United States?’”

UAW or­ga­niz­ers claimed last month that they had col­lected enough sig­na­tures from work­ers at the plant for Volk­swa­gen to rec­og­nize their union un­der the card­check process, but they have not pro­duced the re­sults.

Volk­swa­gen could ac­cept the claim and rec­og­nize the union with­out a vote, but the com­pany has hinted that it would rather

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.