What the Unions Can’t Win in Tennessee

Revote or no, the UAW can't reverse decades of decline with nothing to offer workers

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The UAW petitioned the National Labor Relations Board Friday for a revote at the Tennessee Volkswagen plant where workers, 712-626, rejected its bid for unionization. The UAW is accusing Republicans of potentially illicit interference. It has a point. But even if the UAW wins this battle, that doesn’t mean it’ll win the war for its future.

(MORE: Crippling Blow for Labor Union at Volkswagen Plant)

The NLRB, which is stacked with union-supporting Democrats, is expected to grant the UAW’s request. The union regards winning the Volkswagen vote as a crucial first step in a broader effort to reverse decades of decline. Since 1979, its membership has plummeted from 1.5 million to about 380,000 and it has managed to unionize not a single foreign automaker to offset these losses.

This particular plant in Chattanooga was supposed to be easy pickings because, thanks to pressure from IG Metall, the German workers union, Volkswagen had signed a neutrality agreement with the UAW. In Germany, unions can veto management decisions that don’t serve worker interest. And IG Metall had threatened to bar the company from manufacturing a new line of SUVs in Chattanooga, the only Volkswagen facility worldwide that is not unionized, unless it remained “neutral” by forfeiting its right to campaign against the UAW. The company went even further: It not only allowed the UAW to set up a vote drive office inside the plant, but denied unionization opponents similar space.

(MOREA Step Backward for Labor)

This incensed the state’s Republican legislature, which threatened to withdraw an “incentive package” meant to keep this $1 billion facility in Tennessee if workers voted for unionization. What’s more, on the eve of the election, GOP Senator Bob Corker declared that company executives had assured him that failure to unionize would not affect their plans for SUV production, a statement they subsequently denied.

(MORE: VW, Grover Norquist, and the Future of American Unions)

The GOP’s intervention tainted the outcome, but without really gaining it anything. Tennessee is a right-to-work state. This means that even if the UAW manages to unionize the plant, it won’t be able to automatically collect union dues and use them to elect Democrats, the big GOP fear.

Nor is it clear that the UAW’s victory in Chattanooga would even be replicable elsewhere in Tennessee, let alone the rest of the south. That’s because, without the help of an overseas comrade threatening to yank production opportunities, a situation peculiar to German companies, the UAW doesn’t have much to offer workers.

The post-bankruptcy restructuring of the Big Three slashed UAW wages to levels comparable to those at foreign transplants. And the union can no longer insist on lavish health care benefits without signing the death warrant of auto companies given Obamacare’s 40 percent excise tax on gold-plated health care plans. Moreover, transplant workers are rarely ever laid off, so union membership does not buy any more job security.

What’s more, Southern states have actively marketed themselves as union-free zones. This strategy has made Tennessee the South’s auto hub with three foreign automakers located there. By contrast, Michigan has attracted not one, despite its highly trained workforce.

All of this is not lost on Southern workers who are strongly protective of their anti-union heritage. The UAW has tried various degrees of organizing drives at Nissan, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz without success. Indeed, at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, which might be the UAW’s next target, anti-union workers have taken to wearing T-shirts saying, “If you want a union, move to Detroit.”

General Motors and Chrysler’s bankruptcy has forced even Northern states to shed their union shackles. Indiana, and even more remarkably Michigan, are now right-to-work states, something scarcely imaginable five years ago. It is hardly likely that Southern workers will embrace unionization just when Northern states are de-unionizing, especially given the new competitive pressures emerging from low-wage Mexico and China.

Given all this, Republicans needn’t panic as the UAW puts its unionization drive in the south into high gear. Southern workers are not knaves and fools. They are perfectly capable of watching out for their own interests — and, regardless of what happens in Chattanooga, it doesn’t lie with the unions.

17 comments
ProtestManager
ProtestManager

The UAW is accusing Republicans of potentially illicit interference. It has a point.

No, it doesn't.  There's this little thing called the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  You might have heard of it.  Labor law does not get to trump it.


Republican politicians, and Democrat ones, have the absolute right to say anything they want to about a union election.

s.c.f.elm
s.c.f.elm

"The UAW is accusing Republicans of potentially illicit interference. It has a point."


No it doesn't.  There is not the slightest rule anywhere that says anything at all about politicians or government officials voicing an opinion.  Their complaint is completely ridiculous.  For you to say it isn't is absurd, but it's not out of the ordinary for this left-wing propaganda magazine.

ThomasTPD
ThomasTPD

What provision of the NRLA prohibits third parties not associated with an employer -- as distinct from the employer itself -- from opposing unionization of the employer's workplace?

joebuzzard3rd
joebuzzard3rd

I just moved back to Texas after 10 years in Detroit.  I got to know dozens of UAW members and even a few managers.  The workers were, to a man, lazy. (I never met a female UAW member, but I'm sure they are no different)  There seems to be intense competition to see who can do the least amount of work.  One man, the husband of a co-worker, would clock in and leave every day (he was in facilities maintenance, not the line).  He would go home and do chores, take a nap, etc...  He bragged about it constantly. The managers told me that not a week goes by without at least once being told to "f***-off" after asking a worker to do something. Their dream jobs were to work in Big 3 factories overseas where they can't even spell UAW.  The UAW is a cancer and the death of its host, whoever it is, is always going to be just a matter of time.

MichaelKelley
MichaelKelley

Most union dues go to the Democrat Party, not toward helping workers. I know, since I am a Steelworker.

PapayaSF
PapayaSF

Of course IG Metall wants the Tennessee plant unionized: a cheaper, more efficient factory makes IG Metall factories look bad.

GuoLiang
GuoLiang

Unions should be outlawed, just like in China. That's why you can't compete with them.


Empathy makes weak nations.

jeffsmccabe
jeffsmccabe

What would have been the NLRB and the UAW's position on a revote if the vote had been a margin of one but with the winner reversed?  Everyone arguing for a revote with THAT close result?

Yoshi
Yoshi

As long as the workers are satisfied with their lot, they will stand pat. Granted "standing pat" includes emotional components, like fear, but until conditions change enough, workers won't organise. In a way, this is closely related  to the simple existence of unions. These workers have the deal they do to keep the workers from organising. It's also the impetus for "right-to-work" legislation, among other things. I have always been fascinated by how easily workers are kept under control. After all, they are the ones actually getting the work done, and they are the ones who possess the time that can be sold to companies. I can make money, I cannot make time, therefore time has the most value to me. Why do sports stars demand such high salaries? Because their abilities fade over time and they must maximise their gain in a much shorter time than most other workers in other fields. Theirntime has more value to themselves and their employers. A long-time interesting line of discussion, here. Many facets.

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

GuoLiang--(Gulag?) Outlaw unions so America can pay subsistence wages and benefits, keep people desperate to work like in China.

 Recall Romney's infamous "46% speech" to his fellow rich swells when he talked about Bain Capital touring a Chinese plant it wanted to buy and was impressed by the women laborers living on-site in crowded dormitories making a "pittance" salary as Romney recalled. He was surprised to learn that a barbed wire fence surrounding the plant was there not to keep workers in but starving, desperate people out. That is the GOP concept of what Romney called "a favorable climate for business." Max profits, lowest wages and benefits.

Thanks to the GOP, the disparity between rich and everybody else has never been greater.

Notice that the GOP initially blamed the Wall St. crash on hapless homeowners, particularly black homeowners until the truth came out about the deregulated banks' and their rich, corrupt, greedy banksters' subprime mortgage fraud. It has been the rich, NOT unionists, welfare queens, public employees or undocumented immigrants that the GOP attack, that have robbed Americans of $15 trillion in household wealth, 4+ million homes lost, 9 million homes underwater, the loss of 9 million jobs on top of the five million manufacturing jobs shipped overseas or to Mexico under Bush-Cheney alone while $400+ billion in taxes went uncollected from thousands of offshore corporate tax dodgers.

bagger1956
bagger1956

@Yoshi Sports stars make high salaries because they have unique abilities that others are willing to pay to see.It has nothing to do with the time span of their abiltiies. Workers in the past banded together as unions because their individual abilities to bargain for wages and rights were extremely limited by the fact that their abilities were not special or unique.The unions screwed their members by holding their employers hostage and taking more from them than they could afford. They got their way in the short run, but over time the employers moved or set up shop away from the unions. If the unions learn to negotiate as part of their companies, and put the long-term survival of their companies alongside their short term demands, they can make a comeback. But you can only "stick it to the man" for so long until the man leaves.

GuoLiang
GuoLiang

@ThomasHall  Citation needed, left wing scum. 


Banks and owners are responsible for mortgage crisis, you lose your manufacturing jobs because you care too much about minimum pay (see: union losers), and to anyone literate, Romney's 47% was clearly in the context of potential voters, not "I don't care about half the country". 

Try turning off MSNBC, and reading a real paper sometime. 

M.L.Johnson
M.L.Johnson

@ThomasHall Well, those union run plants sure are efficient machines, just creating wealth for everyone! I was a journeyman in the carpenters union in Hawaii (local745) after working as an independent in the south for years. I had my union brothers come in one day and ask me to slow down. "We'll be out of a job in no time if you keep working at that rate."  Our union president went to jail for corruption, too. Ah, those wonderful unions.

DonMeaker
DonMeaker

Disparity between rich and poor is not because of changes in wage rates, but rather because marriage is increasingly between two people of like income, rather than between a rich (man) and poor (woman).

That is due to workplace rules which discourage high level employees dating lower level staff.

DonMeaker
DonMeaker

The purpose of unions is not to screw management, but rather to screw other workers.  The Teamsters resorted to violence against people who would compete with them for jobs, not against people who would give them jobs.

Unions make well paid workers very well paid, at the expense of the less well paid, just look at unions like those for the lawyers, the doctors, the airline pilots. The victims are their customers, and coworkers like legal assistance, nurses, and non-union pilots.

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

MLJohnson--You complained about corruption on the job. What did you do about it, coward, except take the money? Unions are as varied as companies and are only as good as those in them. Stop blaming others but instead look in the mirror.

How many times have you exposed corruption on the job and lost your job because of it? How many times have you sued an employer at the state or fed level, negotiated a union contract, initiated a congressional inquiry, filed a Dept. of Justice, Inspector General, NLRB, Dept. of Labor compaint? I have done all these things and paid dearly for an "honor above self" life. It is your duty as a citizen and Christian to tell the truth even if it hurts, wimpy.