Roy Exum: VW’s Historic Vote

Saturday, February 15, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Eighty-seven votes seemed like a million late Friday night when it was announced the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant had spurned representation by the United Auto Works union. Fox News called it a “devastating defeat.”  The Wall Street Journal called it “crushing” and Businessweek labeled it as “stunning,” this because “Volkswagen tacitly endorsed the union and even allowed organizers into the Chattanooga factory to make sales pitches.”

By noon Saturday there were over 600 stories on Google alone and the reports were frenzied. A prominent writer for the Detroit News wrote that he had been assured, albeit privately, by both VW officials and UAW brass that it was “a done deal.”

But when the votes were counted and 53 percent of the employees voted “No,” the historic 712-626 vote reverberated across the automotive world and seemed to doom any chance for the badly-maligned UAW to ever break into foreign manufacturing plants that now build cars in the United States.

For many in Chattanooga, where bitter memories linger after the unions once swept away virtually all manufacturing, there was a huge satisfaction, this after an increasingly unpopular Barack Obama had chided Republican leaders for their “outside influence” earlier in the day and the President claimed state and local politicians were more “interested in German shareholders than U.S. workers.”

To the contrary, Senator Bob Corker, who was instrumental in bringing the plant to Chattanooga five years ago, told The Wall Street Journal, “I am thrilled for our employees and our community. I am sincerely overwhelmed. The UAW had all of the advantages,” he said, “Everybody but the UAW had both hands tied behind their backs.”

The presumed courtship between VW and the UAW is thought to be due to a somewhat cloudy “works council,” a method of governance said to be successful in Europe but that is – in fact – illegal in the United States. When the UAW began a push, elected politicians sworn to do what is best for the citizens they represent mounted a heavy resistance with ample ammunition from a devastated and now bankrupt Detroit.

Senator Corker, Governor Bill Haslam, former Assistant Governor Claude Ramsey and a host of state legislators – all aware what a scurrilous union presence could mean to the state and the region – soundly castigated the union and Bob King, the UAW president, expressed outrage over the “outside interference.”

A native of Chattanooga, Corker fired back: “Outside! I’ve been involved with bringing Volkswagen here since Day One. To call me or any community leaders outsiders … nothing could be further from the truth.”

Earlier in the week Corker had drawn fire from the nation’s liberal media when he said he had been informed that VW would build new models in Chattanooga if the union threat was thwarted. Plant Manager Frank Fischer quickly retorted the comment, telling reporters there was “no connection” between a new vehicle being manufactured and the union vote, but Corker held his ground.

Corker said, “Believe me, the decisions regarding the Volkswagen expansion are not being made by anyone in management at the Chattanooga plant and we are very aware Frank Fischer is having to use old talking points when he responds to press inquiries. After all these years and my involvement with Volkswagen, I would not have made the statement I made yesterday without being confident it was true and factual.”

Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, told the Detroit News that Friday’s loss is a strategic one for the UAW. “While far from a death knell, this latest defeat suggests a turbulent future for an organization that has steadily lost membership and influence over the past four decades.

 “We may never know what impact a union would have on future Volkswagen plant operations in Chattanooga,” said Brauer, “or other foreign plants in the region, but we do know the rapid expansion of Southern auto manufacturing has occurred without union representation.”

VW employee Mike Burton, who works in the paint area of the Volkswagen plant, explained to The Automotive News that the vote doesn’t mean the employees don’t want representation in the plant’s daily operations. “We're just not willing to pay $600 a year to have most of that money go out of our community."

Burton said most of the employees want the same thing. "If they're loyal to the UAW, they're going to have to go someplace else. If they just want employee representation with the management here at Volkswagen, we will come up with a solution -- and we will all benefit from it."

As Sean Moss, another employee, told Reuters, “We felt like we were already being treated very well by Volkswagen in terms of pay and benefits and bonuses." Added Moss, who voted against the UAW. "We also looked at the track record of the UAW. Why buy a ticket on the Titanic?"

The UAW isn’t going away quietly. Under an agreement with VW, the UAW must cease all organizing for a year before they can attempt another try in Chattanooga. Desperate union officials have indicated they will now approach Nissan plants in Smyrna, Tn., and Canton, Miss., and place an emphasis on the Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Analysts believe the UAW must achieve a breakthrough with a foreign manufacturer to have any leverage with “The Big Three” when contract negotiations resume with GM, Ford and Chrysler later this year.

Dennis Williams, the UAW’s Secretary-Treasurer and the heir-apparent to follow King as the union president, told one reporter early Saturday morning, “We're not leaving Chattanooga," he said. “It took seven years to organize Ford, and I will be around for at least another five."

royexum@aol.com


 



Let Teachers Teach

Despite what you hear, everything about public education is not bad. I realize that there are concerns, especially when students from the United States are globally compared to other students from industrialized countries. But when you compare the United States to 50 years ago, there is definitely an improvement. The US Department of Education reports that the country has reached ... (click for more)

Protecting Water Strengthens American Economy

Water is crucial to the U.S. economy, specifically in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.  In 2011, $30 billion was spent right here in the southeastern United States by both residents and non-residents of our region who enjoyed getting outdoors to fish, hunt, or simply watch wildlife in our rich and varied streams, forests and estuaries. ... (click for more)

Teen, 17, Charged With Aggravated Rape In Attack On 69-Year-Old North Chattanooga Runner

A 17-year-old has been charged with aggravated rape in connection with an attack on a 69-year-old runner in North Chattanooga on Monday morning. The teen was identified by Juvenile Court officials as Diontae Smartt. Authorities said he has given a confession. Smartt has a detention hearing Thursday at 12:30. The incident happened at approximately 7:30 a.m. ... (click for more)

Berke Implements New Pay Plan For Chattanooga Fire Department

Mayor Andy Berke joined the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and leadership of the Chattanooga Fire Department to unveil the department’s new pay plan Wednesday afternoon. At a press conference at Fire Hall #1 on Main Street, Mayor Berke and IAFF Local 820 President Jack Thompson signed a memorandum of understanding which sets forth regular raises for fire ... (click for more)

East Hamilton Personnel Losses Boost Other 5-AAA Hoop Teams

CLEVELAND, Tenn. – East Hamilton’s loss has been solid gains for two other basketball teams in District 5-AAA and Ringgold, Ga. One of the Hurricanes’ top players, Kenny Bunton, left the program two days after Rodney English replaced fired Michael Stone and transferred to Walker Valley where he will play for coach Bob Williams’ Mustangs. “I took the job in March and two days ... (click for more)

John Shearer: Memories Of Watching 38 Baylor-McCallie Games

Back in the fall of 1971 when I was in the sixth grade at Bright School, I listened on the radio to the exciting football game between Baylor and McCallie schools, the first since the series had been discontinued after 1940. I was hoping to attend Baylor School as a student the next year, so I was quite excited that Baylor won, 9-7.  And the next year as a seventh-grader, ... (click for more)