(By Mark Gruenber, PAI Staff Writer)
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (PAI) – Outside pressure, from Republican politicians and business-backed Radical Right lobbies, led to the United Auto Workers’ narrow loss in the Feb. 14 union recognition vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., union leaders said.
With all 1,338 ballots counted out of 1,570 eligible workers, the UAW lost 712-626, drawing 46.8% of the vote. Had it won, the union would have broken through in one of the major foreign-owned “transplants” in the anti-union South, and set up a model for its future organizing drives in that region.
“While we’re outraged by politicians and outside special interest groups interfering with the basic legal right of workers to form a union, we’re proud these workers were brave and stood up to the tremendous pressure from outside,” said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, who heads its efforts to organize transplants.
“Politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee,” UAW Southern Region organizer Gary Casteel added.
“The ferocity of Right Wing anti-worker forces was unprecedented,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters during the fed’s executive council meeting in Houston. “You had the governor, the head of the legislature and a U.S. senator saying” to the VW workers “‘If you exercise your rights, we’ll take away your job.'”
“They were scared and showed they were scared,” Trumka said of UAW’s Right Wing foes. That’s why they threw so much into beating the union, he added. “Workers left to their own devices would have made a different decision” and voted to unionize.
“While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall” — the big German industrial union — “for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union,” added UAW President Bob King in a statement after the vote.
VW itself stayed neutral, and in turn the UAW agreed that had it won, the union and the company would have formed a joint “works council” to oversee labor-management relations at the plant on such issues as grievances and job safety. Such works councils are mandatory under German law and VW has a master works council, too.
“Our employees have not made a decision they are against a works council. Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant,” VW Chattanooga CEO Frank Fischer said.
“Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America’s production needs and serve our employees’ interests.”
Fischer later said VW would consider establishing a works council at Chattanooga without any union. Trumka, who has a law degree — after his years in coal mining — doubted that would be legal under U.S. labor law. “Without a union in place, the works councils don’t work,” he said.