Roy Exum: VW’s Dance With UAW

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

The people who were born and live in the United States of America are accustomed to hearing both sides of an argument and then deciding the outcome, often with a vote. That is the democratic way. But in the last several months our German guests who now graciously operate the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga seem unable to grasp that wonderful way by which we live.

Had there been the faintest inkling that VW would one day want to bring the United Auto Workers into our area it is my firm belief the Germans would never have been invited to come here. I can almost guarantee it. But in a staggering development on Friday, a Volkswagen lawyer formally joined a UAW request that asked the National Labor Relations Board not to allow the majority of its workers’ voices to be heard if a hearing is granted to consider another vote.

In mid-February a bid by the UAW to represent some plant workers was defeated, 712-626. This happened after VW officials had allowed the United Auto Workers organizers inside the plant to campaign for votes while keeping anti-union groups outside the gates and not allowing supervisors to voice their opinions.

If you think that’s brazen, try this: It has now been learned that VW “actually agreed to provide the union with the names and home addresses of its hourly employees in Chattanooga and ‘align messages and communications through the time of the election,’ according to the terms of agreement signed by the company and the UAW ahead of the vote,” according to a story that appeared in the Detroit News recently.

On Friday the Volkswagen of America stooped to a greater low when a one-page letter was delivered to the NLRB that sided with the UAW request demanding that any person or group who opposes the union should not be allowed to speak. In essence, the NLRB would literally hear just one side of the argument. How anti-American is that!

A motion by the anti-union side states, “If the (workers) are not allowed into this case, this … election process could go on forever. The UAW and Volkswagen could collude to schedule re-run elections over and over again, ad infinitum, until UAW representation is achieved.

“It would be a mockery of justice for the board to allow only two colluding parties—the UAW and Volkswagen—to be parties to this objections proceeding,” it added. “It would be akin to allowing two foxes to guard the henhouse.”

When the much-maligned Auto Workers lost the February vote, the results sent shock waves around the world with some experts suggesting it was a clear signal the union would soon become a new Detroit; even outgoing president Bob King had said if the union fails to break into the “transplants” or “transnationals” (foreign companies building cars in the U.S.) below the Mason-Dixon Line the future looks bleak.

“If we don’t organize the transnationals, auto jobs are going to stop being middle-class jobs,” he told reporters. “We’re fighting for the American middle class.”

Oh please! King’s real fight is for new dollars – the membership pool is drying up. The UAW, once upon a time, was the biggest union in America with 1.5 million members and a strike fund of over $1 billion but today there are just 380,000 members, about $600 million left in the strike fund, and a rusty landscape of vacant assembly plants. Union halls, no longer of any use, can be bought for bargain prices and the state of Michigan, desperate to recoil, just became a right-to-work state.

So why is VW so intent on marrying the scurrilous UAW? According to the Detroit News story, there is a German word, “Mitbestimmungsgesetz,” which translated is a law in Germany that requires large companies to fill at least half the seats on any boards or worker’s groups with representatives from their trade unions. They call such a decision-making process “co-determination.”

With half of all of VW’s leaders being union, is it any wonder why “corporate” is so intent on the UAW infiltrating the Chattanooga plant? The union’s King can smell the coffee. He told the Detroit newspaper, “If I had a magic wand, we’d pass a co-determination law here, because in a global economy people have to work together,” King said. “That’s what’s so sad about Tennessee. We had this great opportunity for the state, for the workers to be part of.”

But the workers didn’t buy it. As many honestly stated, there was no advantage to joining the UAW and workers in Chattanooga fared better than people who were recently hired at union assembly plants. Tennessee has a right-to-work law, which means union representation isn’t required, and the union’s colorful history was distasteful to many VW employees.

Glenn Taubman, an attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, believes VW and the UAW are committed to unionizing the plant. “This dual opposition shows that VW and the UAW are colluding to unionize the Chattanooga plant and tamp down employee opposition to unionization at all costs,” he told the Washington Free Beacon.

“Given the neutrality agreement signed by Volkswagen and the UAW and the alignment of these two parties, I believe that I must be heard regarding the UAW’s efforts to overturn our election victory and thereby deny employees our rights under the (National Labor Relations Act),” he said.

“If the NLRB agrees with these colluding parties and denies the employees any right to be heard in the UAW’s objections case, then it will show America, once and for all, that federal labor law is not designed for employee free choice, but rather is first and foremost for Big Business and Big Labor to strike whatever backroom deals suit them,” he said. “Employees have no rights and no place at the table in such a scheme.”

Is that what VW wants? More importantly, is that what Tennesseans want?

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