Moderated by Rick Badie
Last month, workers at the Volkswagen Chattanooga assembly plant voted 712 to 626 to not join the United Auto Workers; the UAW has appealed the union election results. Today’s guest writers weigh the economic pros and cons of union representation in the South, particularly in right-to-work states like Georgia and Tennessee.
Workers reject union’s pitch
By Mark Mix
At Volkswagen’s Chattanooga auto plant, the United Auto Workers won’t take no for an answer. Despite losing a recent unionization election, union officials are challenging the results. More noteworthy still is their opposition to the efforts of several VW employees, represented by National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, to intervene in the legal proceedings to defend their decision not to unionize.
The UAW’s legal challenge isn’t surprising. It’s just the latest example of Big Labor’s new approach to organizing. Union officials have increasingly turned to coercive and misleading tactics.
Today’s labor movement faces an uncomfortable reality: Most employees just aren’t interested in joining a union. Private-sector union members, who once made up a third of the workforce, are now down to less than 7 percent.
But Big Labor won’t change its pitch.
The UAW’s Chattanooga campaign is a perfect example. UAW operatives initially sought to organize VW workers through a “card check” drive, a process that allows union organizers to badger, harass and even intimidate employees face-to-face until they sign cards, which are then counted as “votes” for unionization.
With the help of National Right to Work Foundation attorneys, several VW employees were able to stave off the UAW’s card check drive and force their employer to request a secret ballot election.
VW and UAW officials struck a so-called neutrality agreement that granted union organizers special access to company facilities leading up to the election. Copies of this agreement acquired by local media show the company and the union “aligning” their media messages and working to unionize the plant.
Still, Chattanooga VW employees ultimately voted against a UAW presence, 712 to 626.
The UAW’s Chattanooga failure is symptomatic of Big Labor’s larger problems. Once celebrated as advocates for the working man, unions have become political organizations.
From 1989 to 2014, 14 of the top 25 campaign donors were labor unions. In the 2011-12 election cycle, unions spent more than $1.7 billion dollars on politics and lobbying.
In states without right-to-work laws, employees are often made into unwitting or unwilling contributors to unions’ political agenda. Although workers technically have the right to opt out of union political spending, union officials frequently ignore their requests to stop collecting dues for politics or throw up bureaucratic hurdles to discourage employees from asserting their rights.
Polls of union members show overwhelming support for right-to-work laws, which ensure union membership and dues payments are voluntary. This is especially true in the 24 right-to-work states — including Tennessee and Georgia — where that free choice is already protected.
Moreover, vocal —and sometimes violent — union opposition to public-sector labor reforms in states like Ohio and Wisconsin have only added to the perception that Big Labor is more interested in defending its political privileges than advocating for working men and women.
Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
UAW creates jobs, higher living standards
By Gary Casteel
It’s been the best of times in Louisville, where the city grew its manufacturing jobs 22 percent. Much of that success is due to the United Auto Workers-represented Kentucky Truck Plant (KTP), where Ford Motor Co. recently announced an $80 million investment for increased production of the F-Series truck, and the Louisville Assembly Plant, where workers will begin manufacturing a second vehicle this year.
While it hasn’t been the worst of times for workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, perhaps it could be called the most unsettled of times. Thus far, the new product that a U.S. senator promised within two weeks of a ‘“no” vote on UAW representation has yet to appear.
In Kentucky, Ford is adding 350 jobs at KTP. One of the first things Gov. Steve Beshear did upon taking office was restore bargaining rights for state employees. Wages and salaries have increased in Louisville by 31.5 percent since the nation’s economic crisis, according to Louisville’s Business First. The entire UAW-represented Louisville complex, with nearly 8,500 jobs, is expected to add nearly $1 billion to Kentucky’s economy.
“The positive relationship forged between the UAW and Ford in Louisville should serve as a model of collaboration for the rest of the nation,” U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., recently wrote.
In other words, even though Kentucky is not a “right-to-work” state, its economy didn’t collapse, the moon didn’t fall and the Louisville economy continues to be a shining example of labor-management cooperation. Charles Dickens might call the joint efforts of labor and management “The Age of Wisdom.” Both parties realize they need each other.
Across the border in “right-to-work” Tennessee, “The Age of Foolishness” reigns. Right-wing ideologues prepared for battle when they learned Volkswagen workers were organizing. They readied their weapons of choice — fear and misinformation — despite Volkswagen’s desire to replicate labor-management success at its plants around the globe.
The opponents ignored the UAW’s record at the recently re-opened General Motors Co. plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., its rebirth a result of 2011 collective bargaining. The jobs of nearly 2,400 Tennesseans were saved; the UAW contract with GM resulted in a $350 million investment in the idled plant, bringing off-shored jobs back to the state.
They also chose to ignore UAW collective bargaining that saved the Zeledyne glass plant and the 600 jobs of Nashville citizens.
Those results trump politics and ideology. Good jobs make a difference, and good union jobs not only help build the middle class, but help set a higher standard for the type of benefits union and nonunion works can win.
While some politicians have put ideology and personal interests above those of citizens facing high unemployment, the UAW has helped create more middle-class jobs in Tennessee than any other single entity.
And that’s not a work of fiction.
Gary Casteel is director of UAW Region 8.