New UAW Push Could Change Our State’s Pro-Business Track Record

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Tennessee’s rich business history is marked by our strong, hardworking people and their passion for commerce. It is these characteristics that have created, and produced quality products and brands known around the world. The key to our success is the innate independence of Tennesseans, the propensity to speak our minds, find the truth, and move forward together. 

The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry is proud of our history of aggressively ensuring that Tennessee is a great place for employees and employers to live, work, raise their families, and prosper. We are proud of our work promoting a great business climate.  

Tennessee is frequently noted as one of the least burdensome states in the country in which to do business. Perhaps most importantly, the Tennessee Chamber is proud of the positive impact on job creation and economic opportunity that our work creates for Tennessee families and communities. 

The old adage, “the more things change the more they stay the same,” is true. Originally founded in 1907 by business leaders in Chattanooga, the Tennessee Chamber, which also serves as the Tennessee Manufacturers Association, moved to our state capital, Nashville, in 1912 to better enhance our business climate and battle the constant threat of union organizing efforts.

Following our founding, the Tennessee Chamber successfully initiated legislation to make Tennessee a “right to work” state that does not force employees to join a union or pay union dues in order to work. Through our conversations with business leaders, we believe that increasing the level of unionization will make it more difficult to both attract new jobs and to expand jobs for our existing employers not only in Southeast Tennessee, where a United Auto Workers unionization effort is currently underway, but all across our state. Further, this would be a major setback for our state’s pro-business climate. 

The fact that Tennessee currently has a very low percentage of private company union members has made our state a magnet for businesses looking to expand or relocate. Negative attitudes toward union membership are deeply ingrained in our culture and our workforce who believe they can deal with their employers on a personal basis without the interference of an outside, special interest third party. 

We, and business leaders, note that labor unions negatively impact productivity that ultimately lead to higher costs, job losses, and a deeply confrontational relationship where strikes and ultimately plant closures become an all too common occurrence. As a result, some companies have chosen instead to abandon their presence in unionized areas and to relocate and start new relationships in other states. American labor unions also engage heavily in political activities, making their presence an additional challenge in producing a harmonious relationship between business and policymakers.  

Let me be clear: We believe strongly that employers and employees must collaborate without the interference of unions. Open communication and collaboration promote the interests of everyone in our communities and throughout our state.

As the voice of business in Tennessee, we are committed to developing and maintaining a responsible, safe work environment for all Tennessee employees. The collaborative efforts of business interests, government officials, and employee rights groups over the years prove that Tennesseans do not need labor unions to represent them. The successful work of each of these stakeholders with the Tennessee General Assembly has resulted in the enactment of fair labor laws that protect employee rights, ensure a safe workplace, maintain the integrity of our unemployment insurance system and ensure that other deserved worker benefits are provided in a fair and efficient manner all while making and keeping Tennessee economically prosperous.  

Our overall mission is guided by our member businesses across the state who belief that an unapologetic dose of Tennessee business exceptionalism is the best thing we can do to promote free enterprise and prosperity for all.  

While it is ultimately the decision of the hardworking employees at the Volkswagen facility in Chattanooga, we, and businesses across the Volunteer state, are optimistic the right decision will be made. We believe that Volkswagen employees will vote to avoid representation by out-of-state special interests. Too much is at stake as the entire southeast and nation watch what happens here in Tennessee, especially as so many other employees have rejected efforts to unionize when faced with the consequences. 

The UAW’s presence would permanently change the interactions between employees and their employers and would not make Southeast Tennessee, or the Volkswagen plant, better. 

Bradley Jackson

President and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and the Tennessee Manufacturers Association

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