UAW loses yet again in Tennessee

Back in April, we looked at the efforts by United Auto Workers (UAW) to get their foot in the door at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This was their second effort after failing in a similar effort in 2014. The union painted the company as a bunch of villains who didn’t want to allow workers to organize, but opponents of the proposal pointed out that unionization would only drive up costs and potentially wind up eliminating jobs in the long run. With politicians and celebrities weighing in on both sides, everyone expected a close vote. But now the process has ended and the result was the same. The workers voted against joining the UAW and will continue to represent themselves through an internal employee organization. (Associated Press)

Workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted Friday night against forming a factory-wide union, handing a setback to the United Auto Workers’ efforts to gain a foothold among foreign auto facilities in the South.

The vote of hourly workers began Wednesday and concluded Friday. Preliminary results show 833 employees voted against representation and 776 voted for it, the German automaker said in a statement. VW said about 93% of the roughly 1,700 eligible employees voted.

“Our employees have spoken,” Frank Fischer, president and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in the company statement.

The 883 to 776 result was pretty much the same margin we saw in 2014 when workers voted 712 to 626 against unionization.

I was down in Tennessee regularly during the 2014 campaign and spoke with a number of people on both sides of the debate. The story back then was pretty much the same as it is now. Union organizers from Detroit were going around the community and pushing for the workers to organize, claiming that would wind up getting better pay, more benefits, etc. And to be sure, dangling the prospect of getting more money in front of people’s faces is a powerful incentive, so they were able to sway plenty of workers over to their side.

Opposing them were the Right to Work folks who reminded everyone of how the UAW had priced themselves out of business so often in Detroit, with employers regularly either cutting back on the workforce or shutting down entirely when things got tight. All of those sky-high wages and endless pensions succeeded in making the business unprofitable, and an employer with a closed plant provides no jobs at all. The same model could eventually wind up unfolding in Chattanooga if the workers weren’t careful.

As far as painting VW as being the “villains” in this, that’s simply dishonest. From the beginning, they’ve said that they would leave the decision up to the workers. Whether they wanted to unionize or maintain an internal employee association didn’t matter. VW just wanted some sort of official representation structure they could deal with. Pretending that they’re out there trying to break up the unions is just false.

The spread changed from slightly less than 100 to slightly more than 100 over the past five years, but that can be accounted for by the somewhat larger number of workers. It appears that the battle lines haven’t moved much in half a decade and they likely won’t in the near future. For now, the VW workers can just keep on keeping on, though I’m sure the UAW will be back to try their luck again.