The UAW’s Election Loss at Chattanooga VW Plant Will Not End the Southern Auto Organizing Drive

by Paul Garver

Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference by anti-union special interest groups and right-wing politicians, on 21st February the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians and wealthy anti-union organizations.

The success of the UAW’s novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would  prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by some workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed organizing efforts by pro-union VW workers and their families can succeed.

I went away from a workshop with renewed hope at the recent Labor Notes conference in Chicago addressed by Volkswagon workers  and by Chris Brooks, of Chattanooga Organized for Action.  The workers and Chris explained with passion and clear analytical thinking how the union came close to victory, only to be blindsided by a massive anti-union campaign fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from shadowy outside special interests.

Continue reading

Reflections on the defeat suffered by the TN workers in Volkswagen

by Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Bill Fletcher (Feb 18 , 2014) The election loss at the Chattanooga plant of VW was, first and foremost, a loss suffered by the workers.  Secondarily it was a loss suffered by the United Auto Workers.  The workers at that facility lost the chance to bargain collectively and to obtain a voice in their workplace.  This was a loss that was mainly the result of the all-out right-wing offensive that took place in TN against the workers and their–the workers’–decision to seek representation. And, as is the case for all workers who lack collective bargaining (or the even rarer personal contract), they remain in a free-fire zone where they can be removed from their job for any reason or no reason as long as the reason does not violate statute.   I am sorry; i just needed to cut to the chase.

Yet, we cannot stop there with our reflections on what transpired.  This was a situation where the company–VW–agreed to be neutral and, in many ways,seemed to welcome the union.  Nevertheless, by a relatively slim majority, the proponents of workers’ rights did not prevail.   This reality emphasizes the point that employer neutrality, while important, is insufficient.  There are larger factors at stake when workers must make a decision on union representation, particularly in a period where labor unions have been under such vicious assault.  The decision, in this case, of the Republican Party and others on the political Right to draw a line in the sand and go all out to intimidate the workforce is a case-in-point.  The workers, their families and friends had to decide whether the threats coming from the political Right were genuine or just rhetoric.  Given the history of anti-worker repression in the South, along with the on-going racist efforts to secure a ‘white bloc’ against progress, the messages of the political Right came through loud and clear. Continue reading

A Southern Workers’ Movement Can Change the Nation

by Eric Fink

OrganizeTheSouth-640_Feb17“Organize the South” was the call on Monday evening February 17 in Durham, North Carolina, where an overflow crowd gathered for a discussion on “How a Southern Workers’ Movement Can Change the Nation.” Worker advocates and adversaries alike have identified the South as a crucial battleground in the fight to reverse the long decline of the U.S. labor movement. This Fall, the AFL-CIO committed itself “to develop a Southern organizing strategy” as “one of its top priorities”. The UAW’s bid to represent workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee became a focal point in that fight, and the union’s narrow defeat in last week’s NLRB representation vote has led some to suggest–dolefully in the case of union supporters, cheerfully in the case of union busters–that a southern organizing strategy remains futile.

The panelists at Monday’s event in Durham rejected that pessimistic conclusion. Their common message was that unions can win in the South, and doing so is an essential part of the broader goal of defeating the reactionary political and economic agenda nationwide. The key to labor’s success in the South is cultivating and mobilizing community support for workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions.

Continue reading

UAW Appeals Election Loss at Chattanooga VW Plant

[Ed. note: Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference, the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians.

The success of the UAW's novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would necessarily prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by many workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed efforts to reach VW workers and their families could succeed. --Paul Garver]

The text of the UAW press release on the NLRB appeal follows below the line Continue reading

A Union Suitor Spurned–VW to UAW: So Long Partner?

by Steve Early

Steve Early

Steve Early

Most progressive media commentary on the United Auto Workers’ defeat last week in a key Volkswagen (VW) plant election has focused, understandably, on the role of outside union-bashers, the anti-union culture of the south, or the unfavorable racial composition of the company’s Chattanooga, TN. workforce. (See, for example, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larry-cohen/senator-corker-must-be-he_b_4800269.html or http://prospect.org/article/when-culture-eclipses-class)

Pursuant to negotiations with the UAW and its German union ally, IG Metall, Volkswagen agreed not to campaign against unionization in a blue-collar unit of 1,500. UAW organizers got highly unusual access to the plant to make their case at several hour-long shift meetings and in any one-on-one conversations that VW employees wanted to initiate in a specially designated room or other non-work areas just prior to the vote. The only limit on UAW communication was a legal pledge not to visit employees, uninvited, at home, and to keep any written comments about the company “positive” and “non-adversarial.”

So the usual management task of going negative—to scare workers into voting “No”–was undertaken with typical conservative gusto by influential state legislators, the governor of Tennessee, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, and other well-funded GOP helpers from out-of-state. Their compelling message was that a pro-union vote would deprive the plant of new work and/or continued public subsidies. President Obama weighed in tepidly and semi-privately on the union side; his intervention, per usual, was too little, too late. Continue reading

When Culture Eclipses Class

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

America is where class struggle gets derailed by culture wars. It’s happened throughout our history. It happened again last week in Chattanooga.

For more than a decade, the ability of the United Auto Workers to win good contracts for its members—clustered in GM, Ford, Chrysler, and various auto parts factories across the industrial Midwest—has been undercut by its failure to unionize the lower-wage factories that European and Japanese car makers have opened in the South. Daimler, BMW, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen—all of them ventured to the non-union South to make cars on the cheap for the American market. All these companies have good relations with the unions in their homeland, but by going south, they signaled they had little to no intention of going union in the U.S. Continue reading

How The UAW Lost Chattanooga.

We invite additional analysis of the UAW union election at VW in Chattanooga.–Talking Union

by Douglas Williams and Cato Uticensis

UAWThere is no question that the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) failure to organize at the Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, TN is significant. It’s the first time UAW has actually brought a strategic campaign targeting the so-called “transplant” automakers to a National Labor Relations Board ballot. Secondly, it’s the UAW’s first major campaign in the South in decades. Thirdly, this election was touted as a new model by both VW executives and UAW leadership, seeking to create a “works council” at the plant in Tennessee similar to ones in existence at every other VW plant. More on that last point later.

Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns, and Money does a great job analysing several aspects of this story. The issues surrounding capital mobility he raises are crucial to understanding why VW and other foreign automakers have opened factories in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. He also calls a measure of bullshit on the argument that has been made by union leadership that “outside groups” were responsible for the defeat of the UAW, noting that the conservatism of white Southerners (who dominated the voter pool in the election) is hardly a new development. As such, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Grover Norquist should not be handed a victory trophy for what amounts to the UAW shooting themselves in the leg. Continue reading

After Historic UAW Defeat at Tennessee Volkswagen Plant, Theories Abound

Workers and organizers cite outside interference, management collusion, union missteps, two-tier agreements and Neil Young

Mike Elk

United Auto Workers President Bob King (L) and Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams (R) prepare to respond to the union's election loss at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Mike Elk)

United Auto Workers President Bob King (L) and Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams (R) prepare to respond to the union’s election loss at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Mike Elk)

“I am excited,” auto worker Justin King told me as he put on his cowboy boots to get ready for the victory party planned for late Friday night. At approximately 10 p.m., the United Auto Workers union and Volkswagen would announce the results of a three-day union election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

King had reason to be excited. For nearly three years he had campaigned to get the union into his plant. As one of the leaders of the drive, his sense was that the UAW had the support of the majority of the plant’s 1,550 hourly workers. Unlike in most union drives, organizers didn’t have to worry about the company threatening workers’ job, because Volkwagen had agreed to remain neutral in the process, so King felt cautiously optimistic that the support would hold.

But Justin King never got to enjoy his victory party. An hour after we spoke, retired Circuit Court Judge Samuel H. Payne announced to a roomful of reporters assembled in a Volkswagen training facility that the UAW had lost the campaign, with 626 workers voting in favor of the union and 712 voting against. To the labor reporters, who had seen many union election results, it was jaw-dropping news. How could a union lose an unopposed campaign? Continue reading

UAW’s Take: Historic election brings outside interference in the vote of Chattanooga Volkswagen workers

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United Auto Workers

UAWCHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant today have voted against union representation that would have led to the establishment of a works council that would have been the first such model of labor-management relations in the United States.

At the end of voting on Friday, Volkswagen workers voted against joining the union in a vote of 712 to 626.

The decision follows three days of voting during an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board and comes amid a firestorm of interference and threats from special interest groups. Continue reading

Tenn. Lawmakers Threaten to Block Subsidies If VW Plant Unionizes

by Mike Elk

 

Volkswagen employees go to the polls on Wednesday, but will state politicians' threats affect their union election?   Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons

Volkswagen employees go to the polls on Wednesday, but will state politicians’ threats affect their union election? Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons

 In the run-up to a union election, workers typically run a gauntlet of threats from management, including claims that a vote to unionize will jeopardize their jobs by hurting the company’s bottom line.

But in the case of an upcoming union election for Volkswagen’s 1,600-worker auto plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., set to run from February 12–14, the company has pledged to remain neutral during the union drive. Last week, Volkswagen even invited the United Auto Workers (UAW), which is vying to represent the workers, to come and make a pre-election presentation at the plant.

While Volkswagen has vowed not to interfere, however, outside forces have picked up the anti-union playbook and are telling workers that choosing union representation could endanger their jobs. At a press conference on Monday, Tennessee Republican State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson and Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick implied that state subsidies to Volkswagen could be blocked if the plant unionizes. Continue reading

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