Roy Exum: Is UAW Deal Even Legal?

Saturday, July 12, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

On April 21, 2014, when the United Auto Workers union abruptly abandoned its appeal of a 712-626 loss in an attempt to organize the Chattanooga Volkswagen manufacturing facility, it was widely reported that due to rules established by the National Labor Relations Board that the much-maligned UAW must refrain from any further efforts at VW’s only facility in the United States for an entire year.

But less than three months later, the cash-strapped union announced this week that its organizers are now preparing “for the day the union can win a majority vote” and even paraded blue UAW shirts were embroidered with the wording, “Local 42.” VW employees can actually now sign up to belong to “Local 42” with the promise they will pay no dues until a collective bargaining agreement is reached.

While questions swirl if such an unprecedented tactic is even legal, a blogger who identified himself as Randy Boileau in the Detroit News had the most fitting comment imaginable: “Beautiful. ‘We are forming a little club here, see? If you join, your headlights don’t get busted. We don’t need to come to your house and talk to you about it. Nothing heavy gets dropped on your foot in the shop. It’s a great deal. Just costs $1,000 bucks and your rights to speak to your employer on your own behalf. Understand, we are making you an offer you don’t want to refuse.’”

While the hysterical comment plays heavy to the union massacre of Volkswagen’s only other assembly plant in Pennsylvania in the 1980s, the union’s sudden appearance on Thursday comes on the heels of an announcement by Senator Bob Corker that legislation is now being created in Washington to allow a works council similar to methodology used at other VW plants but the new model would be non-union.

UAW president Dennis Williams, desperate to organize a manufacturing plant in the South before talks with “The Big Three” automakers are scheduled to begin later this year, has overseen millions of dollars diverted from the union’s strike fund. Yet, when Chattanooga workers voted against representation in February, it was seen as a colossal blow to organized labor in general and to the UAW in particular.

Oddly, Volkswagen openly courted the UAW and insiders confided before the vote it was “a done deal.” When the UAW was defeated, the plant manager in Chattanooga was summarily replaced and the company has steadfastly refused to announce where two new SUV vehicles will be built, using the selection process and the financial ramifications as a bargaining chip. It is believed Corker’s efforts to create a non-union worker council – and Governor Bill Haslam’s happy agreement – are part of that bargaining.

The UAW, already with a huge investment at stake, isn’t about to worry about a NLRB rule. The UAW needs to muscle General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler into long-awaited raises for the rank-and-file, which will admittedly be tricky after Michigan became a right-to-work state last year. The bankruptcy of Detroit is a fact and, with the next Michigan city (Flint) on the edge of insolvency, the UAW’s clout will be greatly diminished no matter what its leaders might claim

Following the VW vote in February, the UAW immediately blamed the Republican leaders for interfering with the election, saying the workers were “intimidated” by political threats and, while they made a grand show out of subpoenaing the elected officials to a NLRB hearing, they now say they withdrew in order to make it easier for the new SUVs to be built in Chattanooga.

“We said we wouldn’t give up on these workers, and we’re not going to,” said Williams, who also explained creating a group like “Local 42” after losing an election was a common tactic back in the old days “but we haven’t done it for many, many years.”

Matt Patterson, the president of the Center for Worker Freedom, said he is “extremely disappointed the union is not respecting the wishes of the workers, who have said loudly and clearly that they didn’t want the UAW in their workplace. If the union respects the workers … they should respect the decision these workers made.”

Both proponents of the union and those bitterly against agree the vote failed because there was “no incentive to join. Why pay dues and get nothing in return? The UAW offered very little to VW employees, most who sense what Senator Corker said on the new Local 42 in the Detroit News. “They are just taking some steps to try to save face.”

The UAW has been active at the Mercedes assembly plant in Alabama and a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. The Mercedes workers asked the UAW to leave and there has been little success in Mississippi. The unprecedented “club idea” will be fun to watch … that is, “if your headlights don’t get busted and if something heavy isn’t dropped on your foot in the shop.”

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