Over the last several decades, Tennessee has become a powerhouse of automotive manufacturing. With a strong market-share of vehicle production, GM, Volkswagen, and Nissan all show significant signs of growth. That is great news for Tennessee’s workforce and state economy.
But the good news does not stop there. Because of Tennessee’s legislative successes to create a welcoming environment for manufacturing business, new facilities and suppliers are positioned to spring up all around the state.
Others are also noticing Tennessee’s meteoric rise. In July of last year, Business Facilities once again ranked Tennessee as the top state on its Automotive Manufacturing Strength Ranking. Tennessee so impressed Jack Rogers, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, that he said: “Renewed commitments from GM, Nissan’s electric-car line scaling up in Smyrna and a growing supplier network have kept Tennessee in a commanding position in our automotive strength evaluation.”
Speaking specifically about the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, he added, “With VW intent on selling at least one million vehicles in the North American market, its new Chattanooga plant is ramping up to full production.”
While Tennessee is holding onto the automotive “king of the hill” title, Alabama is threatening to knock us off the top. Notably, both Tennessee and Alabama are right-to-work states that prevent employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment. The growth of automotive manufacturing in right-to-work states has been so compelling that even Michigan, a historic union stronghold, passed a right-to-work law in 2012.
Yet the United Auto Workers remains intent on unionizing the South, targeting the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant for a major organizing push. UAW president Bob King has acknowledged just how important it is to organize plants in the South. “If we don't organize the transnationals, I don't think there is a long-term future for the UAW," he said.
If the UAW is successful in its attempt to organize Volkswagen in Chattanooga, the UAW will bargain to be the ‘Exclusive Representation Agent’ for everyone in the bargaining unit – guaranteeing for them that every hourly employee in the facility will have to accept the contract restrictions that the union negotiates with the manufacturer.
In other words, every hourly auto worker will then be associated with the UAW whether he or she wants to or not. Conservative union members and manufacturing employees will quickly find that the UAW’s one-size-fits-all representation spends millions of dollars every year to advance an extremely liberal political agenda and influence elections from the presidential level all the way down to local school boards.
While Chattanooga may be the immediate bull’s eye of the UAW’s organizing attempt today, the ripples of its aim will spread throughout the rest of the state. For workers in the South, many with both economic and socially conservative viewpoints, the threat to their freedom and opportunity is real.
When all is said and done, the UAW is a hyper-political organization with perspectives and policies contrary to those of many of the workers it claims to represent. The union has a history of using workers’ dues to influence elections at all levels of government. Those policies have failed in Detroit and do not fit in a state like Tennessee that is trying to create automotive jobs and economic opportunity. And while many of Tennessee’s auto workers have already expressed their opposition to the UAW, the battle is far from over.
Workers should absolutely have the opportunity to freely associate with each other and explore with their respective employers ways to improve their workplace and the quality of the products they produce. At the same time, Volkswagen can allow this to happen by using current, non-union workers, instead of insisting that only a UAW represented plant can enter into a works council agreement.
Tennessee’s workers building an impressive industry must not invite an old-Detroit political machine to come between them and their employers. If they do, look for the new automotive era to continue growing across the border in Alabama, at the expense of Tennessee’s automotive workers and our state’s economy.
Terry Bowman is a 17-year UAW member in Michigan, and the president and founder of Union Conservatives, Inc., a 501(c)4 non-profit organization with members in 35 states. Justin Owen is president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free market public policy organization.