By Mike Elk
CHATTANOOGA, TENN.—Volkswagen America recently told Working In These Times that it was not funding efforts to stop the United Auto Worker (UAW) union drive at the VW plant in Chattanooga, and that it supported the right of employees to unionize. Now, evidence has emerged connecting VW to another anti-union group.
Last month, WITT asked VW why it donated to a gala held in June by the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute—whose then-employee, Matt Patterson, had launched a media and community-awareness blitz against the UAW campaign in Chattanooga. Volkswagen America spokesman Carson Krebs responded, “We didn’t support CEI for any specific action or any action against UAW. Our Governmental Affairs Department attended a dinner featuring Senator Rand Paul—so did Ford and the Auto Alliance. As a general principle, Volkswagen supports the right of employees to representation at all its plants and is in favor of good cooperation with the trade union or unions represented at its plants.”
However, Working In These Times has uncovered that Volkswagen America supports a second group engaged in anti-UAW activity in Chattanooga: the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturer Association (CRMA). The local industry group boasts VW as a member, and the CEO of Volkswagen America’s Chattanooga Operation, Frank Fischer, sits on its board of directors.
CRMA engages in a variety of anti-union and anti-worker activities that would seem to run counter to Volkswagen’s stated position of supporting “the right of employees to representation at all its plants.” The organization promotes Chattanooga as attractive to manufacturers because workers receive “cost-competitive wages that are below national norms, including total average industrial earnings (83%), manufacturing wages (75%), and service sector salaries (81%).” In a membership brochure, CRMA advertises its “union avoidance/labor relations” seminars.
One of those seminars, scheduled for August 14, was billed as teaching local companies how to remain “union-free” despite “the unionization threats of the UAW at Volkswagen.”
There’s more: On its website, the CRMA posted an invitation to July 18 anti-UAW forum organized by anti-union consultant Matt Patterson. The event featured Don Jackson, former president of manufacturing at Volkswagen of Chattanooga. Jackson blasted the union drive in his remarks, saying, “I’m not sure what the union can improve. … A third party drives a wedge between management and employees.”
Asked for comment, Volkswagen spokesperson Scott Wilson wrote in an emailed statement
As major manufacturers in the Tennessee Valley, it is important for Volkswagen Chattanooga to be involved in the civic conversation in our region and lead to the way with cutting edge education programs and innovative models of employee /management engagement.
We are involved in the manufacturing community, but ours is not the only voice in the conversation. We allow for differences in professional opinions while working together to strengthen the manufacturing base in our region and bring more jobs to the community. Along with several other manufacturers, we sponsor the annual dinner of the CRMA and we are members. We have never been a part of any anti-union workshops.
VW did not respond to queries about whether it still has a relationship with Jackson, who left in 2012. (It is not uncommon for large corporations to retain high-level executives as consultants after they retire.)
Local activists say these revelations are yet another reason why Volkswagen needs to more vocally demand that outside parties stay out of a union election in which Volkswagen has pledged its neutrality.
“It’s no wonder that [CRMA] are doing everything they can to keep Volkswagen workers from organizing, since they have spent decades adamantly fighting the rights of our local workers to negotiate for better wages, working conditions, benefits and pensions,” wrote Patricia Bazemore, an organizer with labor-community coalition Chattanooga for Workers, in an email to Working In These Times. “The question we have is, why is Volkswagen once again supporting an organization that is obviously trying to undermine what should be the personal choice of their workers, not to mention the global social contract the company has with its workers?”
UAW is a website sponsor of In These Times.
Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times, where this post originally appeared. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.