Let's Not Renew Chattanooga By Bringing Back Unions To Our City - And Response

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Chattanooga story is well known by all. Local philanthropists, the business community and local citizens come together and rebuild Chattanooga into a thriving community that continues grow and prosper today despite going through one of the worst economic slowdowns since the Great Depression. The revitalization of Chattanooga is an American success story, but what many do not realize is how this remarkable turnaround would have been more difficult if organized labor still had a strong presence in our city as they did during the 70s and 80s prior to Chattanooga losing its manufacturing after rising manufacturing costs become more difficult to sustain.

Fast forward to 2014, and organized labor is trying to make a similar comeback in our community. As of now, our community has rejected these efforts, most recently at Volkswagen where local employees voted against the United Auto Workers’ effort to unionize the Chattanooga manufacturing facility. Despite this victory, we must remain diligent in this fight so Chattanooga does not resemble Detroit, Chicago or New York City where union leaders are setting public policy and driving decisions on government spending.  

When Mayor Andy Berke was elected mayor, he ran on a platform of being a new kind of Democrat – one that shares many of our conservative principles, including a desire to bring more transparency and accountability to city government.  Despite this pledge, Mayor Berke has now shown his true political leanings after signing a 22-page Memorandum of Understanding with the SEIU in the cloak of darkness that lacks any transparency and accountability in how this back-room deal was discussed and negotiated. 


I, along with many in this community, have questions that need answers. Why did Mayor Berke sign this agreement without giving any public notification about his negotiations with the SEIU?  Why did Mayor Berke sign this agreement without getting the advice and consent from the Chattanooga City Council?  Why did Mayor Berke sign this agreement without hearing public comments from municipal employees and their families since they are the ones who will be directly affected by the terms of this agreement?  More importantly, why did Mayor Berke sign this agreement without giving municipal employees an opportunity to voice their support or opposition by voting on this important decision?  The process does matter, and it’s time we hold our elected leaders accountable for their actions before it’s too late to reverse course. 

Our elected leaders need to realize taxpayers are watching and will no longer stand by quietly as they make decisions that put our future at risk.  Mayor Berke claims this agreement has no binding authority, will not impact the city’s budget or drive additional costs for the taxpayers.  Yet, the facts tell a different story.  Under the terms of this agreement, 600 hours of paid release time is allocated for one of more union leaders so they can do various union duties or attend meetings, meaning the productivity for these employees will decline and put more of the daily workload onto other employees or drive the need to hire additional employees.  In addition, the SEIU will now be a part of the disciplinary process so terminating employees for legitimate reasons will become more difficult and challenging for the city. In fact, I’m willing to make a friendly wager that the union stewards for the SEIU already have a lengthy disciplinary record. Last, the SEIU will help the city set personnel policy and make salary decision for its members during a time when our city continues to struggle with funding a budget to provide the basic essential services to taxpayers.

These and other concerns are why the public has an interest on this issue.  It’s time for Mayor Berke to understand taxpayers can no longer sustain higher government salaries, Cadillac healthcare plans and soaring retirement liabilities, especially during a sluggish economy.  As we have already seen in the past, these budgetary issues are real and limit needed funding for the essential services – such as public safety, infrastructure improvements and road maintenance – that taxpayers deserve and expect to receive from the city. 

I challenge Mayor Berke to not Renew Chattanooga by bringing back the union policies that helped destroy our city in the 70s and 80s. I would also like to see Mayor Burke’s administration practice some of the transparency he campaigned on. 

Tony Sanders
Chairman, Hamilton County Republican Party 

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"....union policies that helped destroy our city in the 70s and 80s...." Really? Are you sure it wasn't the fact that companies needed to come to grips with EPA regulations and rather than do that they closed up shop and started up offshore operations, made easy as pie by free trade agreements and tax breaks and lower production costs with nearly slave wages? Oh no, couldn't be that. 

Then, after this happens, strutting politicians like yourself have the hubris to stand around and blame unions for everything from typhoid fever to swine flu? Corporate tax rates are the lowest in recent memory and CEO wages are higher than ever, yet your solution is to rid our workforce of those evil, Satanic unions so that our American way of life will be preserved.  

I got news for you, for most hard working Americans the American way of life is just about over. Both parties (but mostly the GOP) have managed to suppress wages and benefits until a normal hard working American can only ever hope to live a life of paycheck to paycheck, that is if he's one of the lucky ones. 

Yes sir, you get up this morning, look at yourself in the mirror and feel that smugness of knowing "you got yours" and the heck with everybody else. Then tonight, stop off for drinks with your friends and sit around and congratulate each other on how great life is. Yeah.  

Unions fault? Hardly.  

Herb Montgomery

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