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

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

Community Groups to host “Solidarity Fundraiser for Injured Volkswagen Workers”

chatforworkersChattanooga, Tennessee — A coalition of community groups announced today that they are hosting a “Solidarity Fundraiser for Injured Volkswagen Workers” this coming Friday, April 18th from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at St. Mark’s Methodist Church in Chattanooga’s historic North Shore community. This event is being organized to raise money for Lon Gravett and Ed Hunter, two former Volkswagen employees who were badly injured while working on the assembly line at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen factory. The fundraiser is being hosted by Chattanooga for Workers, a local grassroots community group, and Mercy Junction, a Christian ministry group.

According to one local worker on the assembly line floor at the Chattanooga Volkswagen factory, “everyone who works here is injured.” Workers leave the factory everyday in pain, with soreness, numbness, and sometimes even more serious injuries. Health and safety issues related to production are a top concern for many workers involved in the union organizing drive, but they remained publicly silent on the subject due to the previous neutrality agreement between the United Auto Workers and Volkswagen.

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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

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