The United Auto Workers designs on expanding their reach into southern Right to Work states was dealt a blow last week when workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, TN plant decided to reject UAW representation in a close vote.
What made this vote unusual was that Volkswagen didn't oppose the UAW's efforts to organize, allowing the union to distribute flyers and talk to workers inside the factory while locking out groups opposed to the UAW setting up shop in the Volunteer state. The final vote tally was 712 against and 626 in favor.
The UAW's attempt to set up shop in Chattanooga was opposed by Republican officials like governor Bill Haslam and US Senator Bob Corker- a former Chattanooga mayor who was in office when VW opened up the Tennessee facility. A number of right-to-work groups set up billboards on highways adjacent to the plant reminding workers in the predominantly Republican state that the UAW funnels union dues into the campaign coffers of liberal politicians who support 0bamacare, gun control and abortion.
Meanwhile, the UAW has accused Corker, Haslam and groups like the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation of influencing the decision with public comments opposing UAW expansion before the vote. However, a number of the anti-union activists who hosted townhall meetings and Q&A sessions offsite included current and former employees of the VW Chattanooga plant.
Republican officials and right to work supporters were concerned that a UAW local in Chattanooga would be used as a beachhead to unionize additional foreign automaker's facilities in the predominantly Right to Work southeast. Other right-to-work proponents point to Detroit and US automakers' declining fortunes that the UAW played a role in as well as widespread corruption within the United Auto Workers itself. A recent Associated Press reports that although membership in the UAW is slightly up, dues have declined sharply- making the union's attempts at expansion out of its traditional rust-belt stronghold a financial necessity. This reportedly has US automakers worried- setting up a 'devil you don't know' since a declining UAW could end up being absorbed by a more hostile labor union.
German corporate management practices includes something called 'co-determination', which allows employee representation a seat on the board of directors through the labor union. This explains in part why VW didn't object to UAW's attempt to organize in Chattanooga and why the UAW has been concentrating their efforts on German automakers in the south such as the Mercedes Benz plant in Vance, AL or the BMW facility in Spartanburg, SC.
While the UAW has taken their accusations of political meddling to the NLRB, Bernd Osterloh- Volkswagen's top labor representative- implied that the outcome of last week's UAW vote would adversely affect the company's decision to expand operations in the US Southeast. Osterloh himself had openly expressed support for unionization in a 2013 visit to the Chattanooga facility.