The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 28, 2014

'We don't want to taint the water' - Union haters rise as UAW loses VW vote

By The Building Tradesman

Maybe the UAW didn’t try hard enough to win community support in Chattanooga. Maybe the VW workers felt they were being treated well without a union. Maybe pressure from local politicians swung the workers’ vote against the union.

Those theories or others may explain why the UAW lost its bid to represent workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga in a Feb. 14 election. But one thing is clear: if the UAW couldn’t win a representation election with a neutral or even helpful employer, labor unions will continue to have an extremely difficult time organizing in the South.

Following are some relevant comments about the UAW’s representation election in Tennessee.

It’s amazing that with unions representing less than 7 percent of the nation’s privately employed workforce – a low last seen in the 1930s – organized labor is still seen by many conservatives as public enemy No. 1. The vote opened the door for the union haters, too.

*”The United Auto Workers — having sucked Detroit dry — is looking South for fresh blood.”

-Matt Patterson, executive director, Center for Worker Freedom (an anti-union group), via, Jan. 27.

*The contents of one of 13 billboards in Tennessee urging VW workers to reject the UAW. “Detroit: Brought to you by the UAW” next to an image of the abandoned Packard Plant ruins.

*The New Republic, Feb. 18: “But the postmortems agree on this: much credit for the UAW’s defeat goes to Bob Corker and other Republican politicians in Tennessee who took the lead in making the case against the UAW even as the employer, VW, signaled that it would be amenable to unionization, and who thereby struck a bigger blow against liberalism than (Ted) Cruz or any Tea Partier could claim to have done in recent years.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) warned that auto-parts suppliers would be less likely to settle in Chattanooga if VW went union and state Senator Bo Watson (R) warned of the Legislature stripping the plant of its tax incentives. By far the most influential, though, was Corker’s declaration just days before the election, following weeks of outspoken comments against the UAW. ‘I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga,” he said.

It is hard to overstate how remarkable an intervention this was: a United States senator going out of his way to quash a union election back home with an insinuation that was highly dubious, given VW’s seemingly sincere openness to a union at the Chattanooga plant, but that nonetheless took on an air of authority given its high-placed source.”

*And Corker was apparently less-than-truthful.

New York Times, Feb. 15: “Frank Fischer, chief executive and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga, rushed to respond after Mr. Corker said VW officials had told him they would expand the plant if the U.A.W. was defeated. Some legal experts said that if Volkswagen officials made such a statement, it might be construed as an illegal intimidation or inducement to pressure the workers to vote against the union.

“In a statement, Mr. Fischer said, ‘There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees’ decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market.'”

* The vote in Tennessee gave South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, another opportunity to declare how much she really, really hates unions.

USA Today, Feb. 20: “South Carolina loves its manufacturing jobs from BMW, Michelin and Boeing and wants more. But Gov. Nikki Haley says they’re not welcome if they’re bringing a unionized workforce.

“It’s not something we want to see happen,” she said after an appearance at an automotive conference in downtown Greenville. “We discourage any companies that have unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don’t want to taint the water.”

The governor urged more than 200 people at the conference, many of them auto industry executives, to keep up their guard against unions. “They’re coming into South Carolina. They’re trying,” Haley warned. “We’re hearing it. The good news is it’s not working.”

Haley promised to keep fighting against union penetration. “You’ve heard me say many times I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement,” she said. “It’s because we’re kicking them every day, and we’ll continue to kick them.”

*Harley Shaiken, a professor of labor studies at the University of California, Berkeley, via USA Today, Feb. 21: “Sen. Corker and Haslam made it respectable to not simply trash unions, but to say they are not welcome. The problem with (Haley’s) statement is — if you followed it to its logical conclusion — she should ask BMW and Boeing to leave the state because they are both highly unionized at their home base of operations.

“When a governor says we don’t want new business and new jobs, that is not simply inappropriate, it is inexplicable. But I think it reflects what took place in Tennessee.”

*Leo Gerard, Steelworkers president, Feb. 11 column: “The GOP is all about freedom – for corporations, that is. Republicans believe, for example, that business should be free from the kind of government regulation that would prevent chemical companies from spewing poison into West Virginia drinking water.

“When it comes to freedom for workers, though, the GOP is all about squelching that. Republicans believe workers should not be free to form labor unions, that they should not enjoy freedom of association, that they should be denied their right to collective action.

“Usually, the GOP explains this as picking sides. In one corner, the corporation sits whining that it doesn’t want unions pressuring executives to more equitably share the fruits of workers’ labor. In the other corner, workers assert they have the right to organize and demand better pay and treatment. In this match up, Republicans always bet on the deep-pocketed corporation. When there’s no fight, when both executives and workers want a union, Republicans still oppose workers’ rights. That’s because organized labor has always stood for everything the GOP hates: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and the 40-hour work week. Republicans denounce workers exercising their right to concerted action, at the workplace and in Washington.

“Volkswagen is the perfect example. Republicans are blasting VW (actually criticizing a corporation!) because VW is cooperating with an attempt by the United Auto Workers to organize the German automaker’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant. The workers at VW’s German assembly plants are organized and paid twice the wage of the Chattanooga workers.

“VW wants to establish works councils at its Chattanooga plant, just like those it has in Germany. “This is intolerable to the GOP. Two of Tennessee’s most powerful Republicans, Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, insist they know how to run an auto company better than VW. Despite this successful international auto company’s actual business experience with work councils, these GOP politicians say that they know what’s best, that they just know unionization won’t be good for VW.

“A union-hating group, the National Right to Work (For Less) Committee, traveled to Chattanooga from its headquarters near Washington, D.C. with a carpetbag full of cash for legal challenges to the unionization effort. And GOP crank Grover Norquist sent his Washington, D.C.-based organized labor-hating group, Center for Worker Freedom (To Work For Less), to Tennessee to thwart the Chattanooga workers’ right to unionize.

“VW objected to the interference. CEO of VW Chattanooga Frank Fischer asked the outside agitators to stop, saying, “Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”

“They ignored him – disregarding a CEO, a figure before whom Republicans typically grovel! That is how much Republicans hate unions. They refuse to believe what VW is saying, that works councils are valuable management tools, despite evidence that the model already succeeds in the United States.”