UAW Playing the Long Game, Ready for the Short Game at VW in Chattanooga

by Wade Rathke

workscouncilChairman of Volkswagen announced in Germany with the Tennessee Governor and US Senator Bob Coker from Tennessee hanging on every word, that the company will add 2000 workers, spend $600 million adding a new SUV line at the Chattanooga plant, and collect $166 million from the State of Tennessee in tax and other subsidies as well as $12 million in lagniappe to throw at job training for the new workers. On this score everyone can agree, but after that confusion reigns.

Senator Coker, speaking for the red-meat, union haters in the local and statewide business community, when asked for his reaction to both the plant expansion and news recently that the UAW had opened an office, chartered a local, and was hunkering down in its ongoing effort to unionize the plant, snarled through an office statement, “Any union can rent space in any city and open an office.” Well, that’s good to know, Senator? The Governor seemed more rooted in the emerging reality and praised the workers and the fact that the VW decision was a vote of confidence in them.

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UAW Local Union 42 Created at VW Chattanooga

by Paul Garver

The campaign to organize Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga is taking a new and interesting direction.

The UAW has chartered Local 42 as a new local organization representing workers at the VW plant.  According to the UAW press release, Local 42 will offer the workers the opportunity for a voice in the workplace similar to the VW works council system for employee representation in Germany.  Calling itself “Volkswagen’s works council partner,” the union pledged to continue its advocacy for state incentives to encourage VW to expand production and create jobs at the Chattanooga plant.

Unlike the usual American labor relations system the union will not have the right to exclusive representation, nor will it represent workers other than its own members.  However the UAW expects that the company will “recognize” the union once it has signed up a “meaningful” portion of its workforce as an organization that represents its own members.  Since the union had dropped its NLRB challenge to the February representation election it had narrowly lost, it could no longer at this time seek formal collective bargaining rights nor the right to exclusive representation of the work force.
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UAW Objections Withdrawal A Sign They Want a Second Shot Soon

by Wade Rathke

UAW(April 22)    Politicians and the in-plant anti-union committee at Volkswagen in Chattanooga were both chortling and celebrating the announcement that the UAW had withdrawn its election objections before the NLRB hearing on the issues raised in its recent, narrow defeat. They are laughing too soon. They are actually totally misreading the organizing tactics, and interpreting a tactical withdrawal as a concession, rather than the more accurate understanding that this is a huge signal from the UAW that they are in fact deepening their commitment to keeping the campaign alive for a second shot at an election.

There are never any future guarantees in organizing about when the time might be right to go another round, but the UAW at the crossroads faced two choices. One was to fully engage on the legal struggle around their objections and run the clock out for years in back-and-forth appeals. This is usually the “long game” after an election defeat where basically the union tries to save face institutionally and to maintain other organizing efforts by giving organizers and leaders’ talking points framed on the notion that there’s still a heartbeat, that justice will be done, and hope is a plan. It’s a sad organizing strategy since even miraculously winning a second election after years would have tended to alienate the workforce, making a better result difficult. Continue reading

Earth Day, Labor and Me

by Joe Uehlein

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The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth. A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!” Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off – to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls: “The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards. When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs.

First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life. Continue reading

UAW drops appeal over Republican intimidation in Volkswagen vote

by Laura Clawson

UAWThe UAW is giving up its appeal of February’s union representation election at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen plant. The union had subpoenaed Republican officials like Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker, around whose threats of dire consequences if workers unionized the appeal to the National Labor Relations Board had centered, seeking information on those threats. But, unsurprisingly, the same people who threatened workers over a union vote weren’t interested in participating in a fair appeals process, a process that could drag on almost indefinitely: Continue reading

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.

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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

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