UAW has gotten its feet under the table at Volkswagen in Tennessee

Here’s a piece of news I really never wanted to have to report. As long time readers may recall, a couple of years ago I spent quite a bit of time going back and forth to Tennessee and I got to meet quite a few of the people involved in the negotiations between the United Auto Workers, Volkswagen’s manufacturing plant and some of the employees who work there. It was one of the more honest sets of union talks I’ve run across, with the company acting very much in good faith all the way through and the workers being fairly realistic about their needs and their future prospects. In the end, the bid to bring in the UAW failed and that was the end of it for the time being.

Sadly, the wheel turned round again and the UAW adopted a new strategy. This month their efforts paid off and they got their foot in the door with at least a small subset of the labor force. (Fox News)

Skilled-trades workers at the Volkswagen’s lone U.S. plant on Friday voted to be represented by the United Auto Workers, marking the union’s first victory at a foreign-owned automaker in the South.

The workers who specialize in repairing and maintaining machinery and robots at the German automaker’s factory in Chattanooga voted 108-44 to have the UAW negotiate collective bargaining agreements on their behalf.

The vote comes nearly 20 months after the union was narrowly defeated in an election involving all hourly employees at the plant. The UAW has been thwarted for decades in its attempts to represent workers outside of General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler.

VW had been fighting this move, not because they are some sort of union crushing monster, but because the agreement only covers a relative handful of highly skilled tech workers, not the entire labor base. In fact, through this entire process the management has been actively working to get a union in place rather than fighting it, but what they wanted was something closer to a European labor board such as is common on their home turf, where workers could be represented alongside the management and come to workable solutions for both. (Getting a taste of how labor unions work in the United States has apparently been something of a wake up call for them.)

The deal they wound up with here has trouble written all over it. For one thing, they’ve got the UAW inside the walls now which is probably something of a hybrid between letting in an organized crime unit and cockroaches. From the perspective of the employees, there are a bit more than one hundred workers who will have a major national union in there arguing on their behalf, likely diving up pay and benefits while the rest of them don’t have any such leverage. That’s a formula for unrest among the ranks if I’ve ever seen one, but only time will tell.

Give it a while to shake out. This might just sink the ship and end with the entire labor force under the thumb of the UAW. How long VW survives in the south after that will probably depend on how greedy the union gets (and how quickly they do so) combined with the as yet unknown fallout from the emissions scandal that VW is dealing with back home. Either way, this probably wasn’t the best day for labor in Tennessee’s history.

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David Strom 9:21 PM on March 24, 2023