I don’t like to write about things that I don’t understand very well, and I certainly am no expert on the unionization of auto workers in the United States, Germany, or anywhere else. My limited understanding is that southern states have been successful in recent decades in attracting foreign and some domestic automakers because they offer a non-unionized (cheaper) labor force than states in the North. I also believe that the unions in Germany are much stronger and less controversial than they are in the United States. I had heard that Volkswagon is taking a “neutral” position on whether or not the workers in their Chattanooga, Tennessee plant decide to join that United Auto Workers union, which I attributed to their satisfaction with labor relations at home. It turns out that VW is actually taking more of a pro-union stance, albeit with a twist.
This would also be something new for the United Auto Workers. They wouldn’t have the same relationship with VW as they do with Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford. Rather, the idea is to create something called a “works council,” which are widespread across Europe and enjoy tremendous influence over how plants are run. In America, that kind of body can’t be established without a union vote — but crucially, the works council would be independent of the union, meaning the UAW would give up some control as soon as it gained it.
While the details of the arrangement would be ironed out after the election, works councils — which are elected by all workers in a factory, both blue and white collar, whether or not they belong to the union — usually help decide things like staffing schedules and working conditions, while the union bargains on wages and benefits. They have the right to review certain types of information about how the company is doing financially, which often means that they’re more sympathetic towards management’s desire to make cutbacks when times are tough. During the recession, for example, German works councils helped the company reduce hours across the board rather than laying people off, containing unemployment until the economy recovered.
You may remember how adamantly opposed to the auto bailout Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) was (the autoworkers certainly do), but you may not know that he was once the mayor of Chattanooga. He wanted to see Detroit’s automakers collapse because he wanted the unions to collapse along with them. It’s not an unusual attitude at all from Southern Republicans, particularly in Tennessee. They hate unions and they are feeling very threatened by VW’s support for unionization at their plant.
In a press conference to address the potential unionization of the Volkswagen plant, State Senator Bo Watson said, “Should the workers at Volkswagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, then I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate.”
He said, “I do not see the members of the Senate having a positive view of Volkswagen because of the manner in which this campaign has been conducted.”
He stated, “The workers that will be voting, need to know all of the potential consequences, intended and unintended, should they choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers.”
He said, “Einstein said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is truly the definition of insanity.” He told the audience that the union might start out well, but said history showed it would not end that way.
He reiterated that Tennessee was a “Right to Work” state and “pro-business.”
Senator Watson said, “I believe the members of the Tennessee Senate will not view unionization as in the best interest of Tennessee. The Governor, the Department of Economic and Community Development, as well as, the members of this delegation, will have a difficult time convincing our colleagues to support any Volkswagen incentive package.”
He also said the unionization would make their job “exponentially more challenging.”
He continued, saying, “I encourage the workers at Volkswagen to carefully consider the decision they will make this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I ask that they consider the effects, not just within Volkswagen, but within our community, our state, and our region.”
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said, “I encourage the employees of Volkswagen to reject bringing the United Auto Workers Union into the Plant and into our community. As you consider your vote, ask yourself this question – Will I be better off with the UAW? When you consider that question, I believe the answer will be NO! I wish the UAW had been willing to have an open and fair debate within the workplace. The fact that the UAW refused to allow all points of view to be heard and discussed demonstrates how they are unwilling to have an open, honest representation to ALL employees.
“The taxpayers of Tennessee reached out to Volkswagen and welcomed them to our state and our community. We are glad they are here. But that is not a green light to help force a union into the workplace. That was not part of the deal.
It’s amazing to listen to them issue these threats, especially since VW is on board with the plan. Take a look at how apocalyptically they are treating this vote:
The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Tennessee’s Senate Commerce and Labor Committee “expressed concern regarding the United Auto Workers (UAW) upcoming vote in Chattanooga, saying a vote for organized labor would harm Tennessee’s reputation as a business-friendly state and reverse the state’s recent progress in automobile-related job growth. Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Vice-Chairman Mark Green (R-Clarksville) said the General Assembly has worked in concert with Governors Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam for the past several years to move forward policies to support Tennessee’s competitive standing in growing and expanding new and better paying jobs in the state. The lawmakers said that pending decisions of VW employees are of statewide interest at a pivotal time when Tennessee stands currently as a national leader in job creation.
“We greatly value our auto workers, both in Middle Tennessee and in Southeast Tennessee,” said Senator Johnson, a businessman whose legislative district is home to the General Motors Spring Hill plant and Nissan’s North America headquarters. “Our communities are very similar with great neighborhoods, schools that focus on achievement and a local economy that is envied by many. The automotive industry is a very important part of the quality of life we enjoy.”
“As Chattanooga workers vote on the United Auto Workers presence, it is a decision that transcends just one community,” he added. “There is tremendous competition for job growth among states. A vote for organized labor would impede our daily efforts to benefit Tennessee families as we compete nationally in job growth. I ask that Chattanooga lead to honor Tennessee’s competitive spirit so we can continue moving our state’s job growth forward. Chattanooga workers, we don’t need the UAW in our state.”
“In business, reputation means a lot,” added Senator Green, who is a practicing physician and businessman who represents the more rural Clarksville region that competes with industry across the state-line of Kentucky. “Tennessee has developed a reputation of a top location for families and businesses because of the lower cost of living, commitment to an educated workforce and folks keeping more of our wages by holding taxes low.”
“Volkswagen chose our state and your community for important reasons: Chattanooga workers have a great reputation of a great work ethic and make an excellent product. That reputation has been yours without the United Auto Workers,” he continued. “The free market that VW chose in our state produces competition, empowers employees far more than a labor union, and keeps bringing jobs to Tennessee.”
They refer to their anti-union laws as “right-to-work” laws, which is supposed to mean that the workers have the option not to join a union. The reality should be clearer after reading these Republicans’ statements. They don’t want any unions in their state, period. They couldn’t care less what the workers want.
It’s also clear that they view the potential unionization in Chattanooga as something that will spread like cancer to undermine the overall health of the state’s auto industry and economy. Does that mean that they think other workers will want to join the UAW, too?
If unionization is such a bad deal, shouldn’t the experiment in Chattanooga prove disastrous, and shouldn’t that deter other workers at other Tennessee plants from following that example? Why are the Republicans so convinced that unionization will metastasize?
Oh, and Senator Corker? He’s still an asshole.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, saying “the whole world is watching,” today urged Volkswagen employees to vote against the United Auto Workers in a three-day election that starts Wednesday.
“It’s a Detroit-based organization. They’re the largest shareholder of General Motors,” he said at a news conference. “The key to their survival is to come down and organize plants in the Southeast. It’s about money and it’s about power.”
Corker said the UAW discussion already is having a dampening impact on wooing new business to Tennessee.
If the UAW organizes the VW plant, it will hurt the standard of living of people in the state, he said.
“We’re concerned about the impact,” he said. “Look at Detroit.”
There are only about three people left who don’t know that when a Republican uses the word “Detroit,” he means “black people.”
Anyone who knows anything about how Detroit became such a disaster knows that it had exactly zero to do with the United Auto Workers. But, yeah, if the VW plant in Chattanooga is unionized, the whole state of Tennessee will soon be transformed into an urban hellhole overrun by people in hoodies.
That’s a nice argument there, Corker.