Roy Exum: VW’s Dance With The Devil

Sunday, February 9, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I feel sure the United Auto Workers representatives have been real up front and told everybody at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen Assembly Plant that the UAW has all but formally announced a 25 percent jump in dues at the annual cattle call this June. I am also pretty confident that Bob King, the glib-mouthed president of the UAW, has been forthright in revealing he’s stepping down before then and he won’t be anywhere around to fulfill any gingerbread promises.

But before Chattanooga’s workforce begins one of the most polarizing elections in the history of organized labor this week, every person who has a vote should make it a personal mandate to know fully what is at stake if the rank-and-file vote “yes” to union representation. This is more than a dance with the devil because there will be no turning back. There never is, as rusting shells of abandoned auto plants in the North offer stark testimony for any and all to see.

To start, the UAW has about 390,000 active members right now and about 600,000 retirees. (Do the math.) Most have never had any reason to visit Chattanooga but, oh, how each one of those million people wants Chattanooga’s money. Are you kidding me? The strike fund, which was about a billion, is now down to $600,000 and today unions are quite unpopular, no matter what a liberal media might say.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is right when he (and every other governor in the United States) says other industry will be driven away if they know a “specialist” must be summoned, and all work will summarily cease, until something as insignificant as a given light bulb can be replaced by a skilled member of the Electric Local.

Union dues are approximately the equivalent of two hours pay per 40 hours. President King says the union “enthusiastically endorses” going to 2 ½ hours in June which – if a worker is making $20 an hour – would bump the weekly dues from $40 to $50. (In comparison, you can lease a best-selling 2014 Toyota Corolla for less than $200 a month … or pay monthly union dues.)

Tennessee is a right-to-work state, one of 24 states that now decrees that payment of union dues cannot be required as a condition of employment. Some think that assures there will be no problems at Volkswagen if the union wins but wiser voices remember the Civil War, when brother fought brother, and any blend of union versus non – no matter the legislature’s naïve intention -- is tantamount to a raging disaster. (Trust me, during the old Standard Coosa Thatcher strike the union knew what time your little girl got out of school each day.)

The state of Michigan has since adopted a right-to-work law (pictures of Detroit where the UAW once ruled can now be seen on billboards around town). The reason is Michigan is desperate to renew the economy and – what’s this – the UAW is poised for new contract talks with the Big Three later this summer? How’s that going to work out, with “seniority savvy” card-holders coming to Volkswagen and “rolling” the new members of the “brotherhood” at our six-year-old plant? Don’t tell me, my friend, I’ve seen it.

If each employee will only study, our VW voters will not blindly put themselves into a winless cycle of reliving history. The summations found on Google and Wikipedia alone are incredibly revealing. But rather than my pleas falling on haughty shoulders, here are some talking points I beg my Volkswagen neighbors to discuss freely among themselves:

OUR PASSAT – Where was the Passat built before the Chattanooga plant opened? What happened to the factory employees when Passat left Germany for “a better economic footprint?” Seriously, you need to know! What is the state of the overall German economy today? Therefore, do you suspect there are some labor-loving Germans who would love to create a terrible rift in the United States (using the UAW like pawns) so that such a horrible mess will occur that the VW leaders will retreat its Passat production to … um, let’s just say Germany again?

WORKERS COUNCIL – We know the president of the VW Global Works Council, Bernd Osterloh, who is also a member of VW's German union IG Metall, has just stated emphatically that “the situation in the U.S. is a disaster!” We also know that Jonathan Browning, who was president and CEO of Volkswagen of America before abruptly resigning “for personal reasons” less than three months ago, was an outspoken critic of unions but that his successor, Michael Horn, is far more receptive. Well, I’ll say. Then there is Frank Fischer, head of the Chattanooga plant, who announced, "Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.” Again, I’ll say.

MERCEDES BENZ – The UAW is still trying to figure out a way to infect the other German automaker, Mercedes, in Alabama. The idea is that if they can get a toe-hold at VW, the Mercedes crowd will be an easy roll. There is a hearing in April on NLRB charges in Alabama but an early charge was dismissed. Employees indicate they don’t want union representation so the UAW is using the Chattanooga plant as its model. Chattanooga’s vote is being microscopically monitored around the world. Why?

NISSAN AND TOYOTA -- The Japanese car makers all but laugh at the union, with direct UAW costs now over $2,500 in every car General Motors, Ford and Chrysler sells. If VW had to absorb $2,500 in each Passat, with the car’s engineering problems (rear suspension, etc.), you couldn’t give them away with a pair of UT football tickets. Volkswagen sales will implode with a union label and with VW struggling to sell one for every four cars Toyota takes to the bank, a craps game right now would be just as profitable as carrying a union card.

THE CROSSOVER BLUE – There was great jubilation, and a lot of high fives, when Volkswagen announced a $5 billion infusion in North America but then some kid in Ooltewah found out in geography class that Mexico is in North America, too. Seriously, the Mexicans got the new engine plant, the new Audi plant, and are poised to get the new SUV plant if the “current political ruse” works. (read it anyway you want or check with Bernd “Mr. Catastrophe” Osterloh.) If VW busts the UAW by a two-to-1 vote like Nissan did in Smyrna 10 years ago, Chattanooga will probably get both new SUVs because of trust, not to mention the lack of UAW migraines.

RIDC WESTMORELAND – Go to Wikipedia and read everything you can about the only other plant Volkswagen has ever had in the United States. Among highlights are: “On October 13, 1978, six months after the plant opened, UAW workers staged a wildcat strike.” Another great line: “Volkswagen settled a 1983 discrimination suit with the United Auto Workers to settle claims that they discriminated against black employees.” I could go on forever.

DENNIS WILLIAMS – Highly cited as Bob King’s successor as the next president of the UAW, the former Marine was quoted in the Feb. 5, 3014 editions of the Detroit News: “Dammit, enough’s enough. We want to fight again. We’ve got to fight,” Williams was quoted as telling more than 1,000 members and retirees at a Washington hotel at the union’s four-day political conference. “It’s time to get it on ... We can’t outspend them, but we’ve got boots on the ground.” In another interview he said, “I am not afraid of confrontation (read “strikes”) if that is what you are asking. I think the best way to handle corporations is you sit down and you talk,” Williams said. “I think people will find my demeanor very businesslike. They will find me very frank and bold with them.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: A “no” vote means very little changes. A “yes” vote means everything does. Be careful what you wish for. One way or another -- you are going to get it.

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