Sunday, February 23, 2014
The UAW Seeks a Mulligan in Chattanooga, Tennessee
The UAW lost its attempt to organize the Chattanooga, Tennessee VW plant by a 712-626 vote on Friday, February 14. It filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board a week later. It needs a Mulligan from the NLRB to save it. The South, including the border state of Tennessee, is notoriously anti-union, championing right to work laws. The Northern states favored closed shops, whereby employees have to join a union. . The South lost the Civil War, but it is winning the economics battles. Even some bedrock progressive states, such as Indiana and Michigan, have become right to work. Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder was opposed to right to work legislation until the UAW led an unsuccessful effort in attempting to get the voters to approve Prop 2 in 2012. Prop 2 would have placed in the Michigan Constitution the right of private and public unions to organize and collectively bargain. It failed 58-42%. Enactment of right to work was the Republican payback to the UAW. The UAW is blamed, rightly or wrongly, for the decline, if not collapse of Detroit, both the industry and city. The traditional Big Three have been losing market shares and sales for 4 decades and closing dozens of UAW plants as the UAW membership plunged from 1.5 million dues paying members 35 years ago to 380,000 members today, a drop of 75%. No wonder the UAW is seeking a 25% dues increase. 130,000 of the UAW members work for the Big Three, the shrinking General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. GM has dropped from over half the American auto market to around 18-19% today. Chrysler and General Motors went bankrupt 5 years ago, but the taxpayers bailed out their UAW health insurance plans. Conversely the Southern states have witnessed a boom in automobile production as the German and Japanese car manufacturers have built new assembly plants in their states – all non-union. The UAW leaders understand what is happening. Union President Bob King recognized two years ago that the union’s survival depended on organizing the Southern plants. He said “I don’t think there is a long term future for the UAW” unless it organizes the South. Previous efforts to organize Nissan and Honda failed, but this time the new VW plant in Chattanooga was targeted with Mercedes in Alabama to follow. They thought VW was the best chance to unionize an import plant in the South. The UAW spent two years organizing the workers. VW was not opposing the union’s efforts. Indeed, it even let union organizers on the floor. Yet, the UAW failed. The UAW faces three obstacles in organizing the Southern Plants. First, the German, Japanese, and Korean manufacturers vigorously oppose unionization, with the sole exception of VW. Second, they don’t have much to offer the workers, who see the unionized plants as losers. The VW workers make about $27/hour and benefits. Third, the South is hostile to unions. The campaign against the UAW was promoted by outside forces, including politicians. Senator Bob Corker (R. Tenn) said shortly before the close of the voting period that he had been told that VW would not add a second assembly plant to build SUV’s if the workers unionize. VW disavowed the Senator’s statement, but VW’s choice is between Chattanooga and Puebla, Mexico. The Tennessee Senate leader threatened that VW would receive no further tax incentives if the plant unionized. The state and local governments had extended $577 million in subsidies to VW to get it to locate in Chattanooga. The political battle is over the future of the economic south, where jobs are growing. The Republican politicians in control of much of the South fear the money the UAW and other unions could raise locally through dues and then fund Democratic candidates in the South. The political and business leaders as well as many workers see the collapse of the heavily unionized industries and the decline of the northern union cities, led by Detroit. Thirteen anti-union billboards were placed near the plant. They had such messages as “United Obama Workers,” “Detroit: Brought to You by the UAW,” and “The UAW spends millions to elect liberal politicians, including Barack Obama.” Bob King was “deeply disappointed” with the “unprecedented interference by Republican politicians and political groups.” The UAW’s petition to the NLRB claimed “Senator Corker’s was shameful and undertaken with utter disregard for the rights of the citizens of Tennessee and surrounding states that work at Volkswagen.” The UAW will be pouring millions of dollars in trying to prevent a Republican takeover of the Senate this year. Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, said the unions will continue their organizing efforts in the South. The irony is that Trumka’s union, the United Mine Workers of America, is being destroyed by President Obama’s War on Coal. The UAW’s complaint to the NLRB is based on an organized campaign of intimidation by politicians and outside special interest groups. Such activities might constitute an unfair labor practice if conducted by the company fighting the union. However, it would be a novel theory for the NLRB to set aside an election because politicians and private citizens exercise their First Amendment Freedom of Speech. It is also based on inaccurate facts. About 1,000 votes, out of 1338, were cast, before Senator Corker uttered his statement. The UAW’s best hope is that the Obama NLRB will come to their assistance. It had earlier acted against Boeing for building a non-union plant in South Carolina to build 777’s. His appointees will not be bound by established law. Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina responded to the VW vote by saying Chrysler, Ford and GM union jobs are not welcome in South Carolina. “We don’t want to taint the water.” That expresses the Southern approach to the traditional, industrial unions.