Five years after employees at Volkswagen's Tennessee plant rejected representation by the United Auto Workers, the union is back for another try. A vote is expected as soon as the end of this month.
While the UAW labors to find a way into this Volkswagen plant, let me tell you how my co-workers and I fought tirelessly to get the same union out of ours.
I live and work in Hamilton, Al., a three-hour drive west of the Chattanooga plant where the UAW hopes to take control. My employer, the NTN-Bower corporation, manufactures the roller bearings used in the wheels of passenger automobiles and other forms of transportation. It's safe to say the plant, which has been in Hamilton since 1972, is the livelihood for the hundreds of people it employs in Marion County.
The UAW first organized the plant in 1976, and for most employees the union was a fact of life--for better or worse. I first became aware of the UAW's lack of less-than-beneficial in 2007, when a prolonged strike threatened to shut down the plant. My husband and son both worked there; our family needed the income, so they crossed the picket line and continued to work. It was a dangerous decision; strikers were aggressively harassing employees who continued to work, using racial slurs and even dropping tacks to try to flatten their tires.
Someone had to stand up for families like mine who simply couldn't risk going on strike. I wrote a letter to the editor in support of the employees who crossed the picket line, and received encouraging phone calls from families around town. I was even at the plant so often in support of my husband and son that I decided to get a job there myself. It didn't take me long to see first hand how the UAW was putting the plant at risk. The union's leaders were willing to gamble with the livelihoods of hundreds of workers, and were actively protecting lazy and incompetent employees who made the rest of us look bad.
The union had to go. I started collecting signatures on a petition to remove (or "decertify") the UAW from our plant. That's easier said than done: The union and its enablers started their own campaign of intimidation, threatening employees who dared to cross them. These threats were personal for me; during my signature-gathering process, I frequently had harassing phone calls made to my house, and even had three of our family dogs die under mysterious circumstances.
It was a very difficult time for me and my family. To this day, I can't talk about these events without crying. But someone had to stand up to these bullies, who definitely did not provide respect and dignity in the workplace.
Faced with a plant whose employees no longer wanted it, the union used its tried-and-true playbook to toss up legal barriers--an effective stall tactic, thanks to its massive bank account and army of lawyers. The union actually lost multiple decertification votes, but used its legal might to get earlier results voided. Finally, in 2015, we kicked the UAW out of plant in Hamilton for good.
Today, my story should stand as a cautionary tale for workers who are evaluating the union's track record--a track record that today includes a federal investigation for corruption. The UAW will make lots of promises to workers during its campaign that it's under no obligation to keep. But like a roach motel, once you check in to the UAW, it's difficult if not impossible to check out.
Employee at the NTN-Bower Corporation in Hamilton, Al.