Look To History For Today's Lessons

  • Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Volkswagen Westmoreland Assembly was a manufacturing complex located 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh — and noted for manufacturing 1.15 million Volkswagens from 1978 until 1987. Initially the plant was successful, but numerous factors contributed to a sharp decline in sales of the cars manufactured at Westmoreland and the factory's ultimate demise.

The plant was organized by the United Auto Workers and, as a New York Times article described, it was the only "transplant" factory (a factory of a foreign automotive company in the US) that the UAW had succeeded in representing, and that the plant "began with a strike and lurched from problem to problem before closing". From the outset, minorities picketed the site, seeking fair treatment in the hiring process and by its first 20 months of operation, workers had staged six walkouts.

On Oct. 13, 1978, six months after the plant opened, UAW workers staged a wildcat strike at Westmoreland for salaries equal to those received by General Motors Corporation employees. Picketing workers chanted "No Money, No Bunny." In 1981, Westmoreland Assembly avoided a strike when it reached agreement with the UAW over the disparity between wages earned at Westmoreland, where assemblers made an average of $10.76 per hour, and those at domestic auto plants in Detroit, where GM and Ford assemblers made an average of $11.42 per hour. In 1983, Volkswagen settled for $718,000 a $70 million discrimination suit with the UAW to settle claims that they discriminated against black employees. Over the Thanksgiving weekend in 1987, Volkswagen announced it would close Westmoreland Assembly and on July 14, 1988, VW closed the plant.

The above was taken from a history of the VW plant – Google VW Westmoreland Plant. There were many reasons for the demise of the VW plant but labor strife was certainly a prominent component.

My personal knowledge of the history of this plant comes from having had several cousins who worked there. These cousins were extremely close and all were excited by the opening of the plant. Unfortunately, the union pitted workers against management – some of my cousins were management and some UAW members. Their relationships deteriorated to the point they ceased to speak with each other.

History has a way of repeating itself.

Tom Decosimo

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