I was absolutely staggered to learn the much-maligned United Auto Workers Union plans to hold an election in less than three weeks to represent Chattanooga’s Volkswagen Assembly plant. I fully believe such an effort, if successful, would be the worst economic tragedy to ever befall us in Southeast Tennessee and would negate all that is right and good in our efforts to be the best we can possibly be in today’s very favorable work climate.
I believe any Volkswagen employee, if equipped with the truth, would in no way want any association with the UAW because – bottom line -- all the union wants is money. Quick math: In 2018 the UAW lost 35,000 members, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Today’s 395,703 members are a nine percent decrease over 430,871 members it had in 2017.
But the nightmare is that there are an estimated 700,000 former UAW members who are retired and receive UAW pensions. Pensioners don’t put any money in, they just take it out. And when you realize that just 15 years ago there were 701,000 UAW members, the pension burden will only grow while membership advantages are – in stark reality -- virtually nil.
The more immediate problem is that General Motors is shuttering four manufacturing plants right now. The most noticeable is Lordstown, Ohio, where 1,700 union members no longer have jobs or, far bigger, any income, other than that UASW pension check. GM puts the blame squarely on the UAW and so does Donald Trump. Listen to what he just said publicly: “I had these union leaders in the White House a few months ago, the biggest guys – nice guys. But they are Democrats, no matter what."
Then the President added, “I sort of don’t want to meet these guys. I want to deal with members of the union – not the heads of the union. The heads of the union are not honest people” – yes, Trump said that – “they are not honest and they ought to lower your dues, by the way … you are paying too much.”
Last week Alphons Iacobelli, an ex-Fiat Chrysler vice president, was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison as the eighth member of UAW-Fiat management caught in an ever-widening money-laundering scandal. According to FBI sources, UAW-favored executives at Ford and General Motors are now being targeted, this based on informants working with the FBI in hopes of lesser sentencing, and what has been discovered, millions of dollars was passed through fake charities.
The Detroit Free Press wrote of Iacobelli and the UAW: "E-Fiat Chrysler executive Alphons Iacobelli was sentenced to 5½ years in prison for his role in a $4.5-million scheme that steered training money meant for blue-collar workers to UAW officials and himself instead. Among the perks that Iacobelli and others lavished themselves with — using stolen money — were a Ferarri, $38,000 Mont Blanc pens, trips and house renovations."
This summer the UAW will go into bargaining talks with “The Big Three” – Ford, GM, and Chrysler – and already the UAW has raised its strike pay, leaving no doubt the upcoming talks will be contentious at best. The union just raised weekly strike pay to $250 per week from the current level of $200 per week and, in January 2020, it will go to $275.
Due to a strong anti-union sentiment in the South, the UAW was dealt a stinging loss in Mississippi when in August 2017, the union was voted down. According to the NLRB, employees at Nissan voted 2,244 against unionization, with 1,307 voting in favor. And this is no trend – the UAW is not wanted anywhere.
The biggest reason for the UAW’s defeat at the Canton, MS, plant was that the employees were happy with Nissan’s management. The UAW had little to offer while charging a card-carrying union member $2 per day for representation. “For what? They (UAW) can’t do anything for us.” one Nissan member said on camera. And she is right.
Several weeks ago, during an employee meeting at the VW plant, it was announced new hires will now receive $16 per hour “with a top-out of $23.50." A VW spokesperson explained, “Production wage progression will increase $.50 at every level. Once an employee has been with VW for six months, they will be eligible to make $17 an hour. Then, after two years with the automaker, employees can make $19.70 an hour.”
Finally, the fact the union election will be held so quickly – within weeks -- raises some eyebrows. A key to any union’s success is ‘seniority,’ where a union member for several years can “roll” a union member with less experience. With GM closing Lordstown, the UAW needs to help the 1,700 members find other jobs. VW workers can’t win in a seniority scenario and with trust a very viable issue, the face of the Chattanooga plant could change rather quickly. Who at VW could possibly want that?
Worse, it has been reported GM could close up to five plants in North America, including in Detroit-Hamtramck and Warren, as part of an overhaul of its North American operations in 2019. Why? The cuts would contribute to $6 billion in cash savings by 2020, including $4.5 billion in cost reductions and $1.5 billion in lower capital expenditures. But analysts say that would eliminate 14,000 staff and factory jobs. The bottom line? Any VW worker could be jeopardized by aligning with the UAW because gloom-and-doom may not happen quick; but it will happen.
The Chattanooga plant is adding a new model. If you have a steady heartbeat and can pass a drug screen, you have a chance to become part of a great team and the UAW doesn’t have anything to do with it. That’s why unions are going belly up. With our economy so rich, why would anyone alive believe any union – pitting management against work force -- could replace the camaraderie now in place?
You want the truth?
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“(Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp said on Thursday it will invest $749 million in five U.S. plants and add 586 jobs as it boosts engine production capacity and adds new hybrid models to its lineup.
“Toyota said it will invest $288 million in Alabama to increase annual engine capacity from 670,000 to 900,000 by the end of 2021 and will add new 4-cylinder and V6 engine lines. It will also invest $238 million in a Kentucky plant to build hybrid versions of the Toyota RAV4 and Lexus ES 300h.
“Toyota announced last year it would jointly build a new $1.6 billion plant with Mazda Motor Corp in Alabama.
‘Toyota said it will exceed a 2017 pledge to invest $10 billion over five years with a new commitment to reach nearly $13 billion over the same period, including Thursday’s announcement.”
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More simply put, if VW votes for a devil’s pact with the United Auto Workers in three weeks, there ain’t enough granite to make the tombstones in this country alone.
And that’s what the UAW doesn’t want a soul to know at Volkswagen.