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Policy: Labor

AFL-CIO statement on Volkswagen vote doesn't mention that labor didn't want it

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Tennessee,AFL-CIO,Volkswagen,Chattanooga,UAW

Leaders of the AFL-CIO issued a statement Wednesday denouncing Tennessee Republicans for their "unconscionable abuse of power" in opposing the United Auto Workers' recent bid to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. They called the lawmakers' efforts "an attack on ... workers exercising their rights" -- without ever mentioning that UAW had actually opposed allowing the workers to have a vote in the first place.

The statement was issued by the AFL-CIO's executive council, which is currently meeting in Houston. It also denounced conservative activist "Grover Norquist, the Koch brothers and others, whose identify we have yet to learn."

On Friday, the Chattanooga plant workers rejected the UAW's bid to represent them in a 712-626 vote. Of the 1,550 eligible workers, 89 percent cast a ballot. It was a surprising defeat for the union since it had the foreign manufacturer's tacit backing.

Under pressure from its German union, IG Metall, VW had allowed labor organizers into the Chattanooga factory to lobby workers prior to the vote, all the while barring anti-union groups. Management had previously indicated it would even welcome the union, which could result in expanding production at the facility because it would allow for the creation of a European-style "workers council."

The AFL-CIO praised the company Wednesday, saying it "respected the right of employees to make their own choice about union representation."

The one thing Volkswagen did not do for UAW was to skip a worker election completely. Union leaders had called for exactly that, saying that allowing the employees to confirm that they wanted collective bargaining wasn't necessary.

"We've determined we definitely have a majority of employees who favor this representation," UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel told the Tennessean in September. "But we are not seeking a vote necessarily; we want some way to get fair recognition. We know if we go for a traditional election where the outside organizations could campaign against us, we'd probably lose."

UAW President Bob King told Reuters the same month: "An election process is more divisive. I don't think that's in Volkswagen's best interests. I don't think that's in the best interests of Tennessee ... If they want to ... recognize us based on majority, I think that is the quickest, most effective way."

VW refused to go that far after state Republicans, particularly Sen. Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, objected to the union's push. There were also allegations of fraud by the union and coercion by the company. Nation Labor Relations Board attorneys have since called for the NLRB to dismiss complaints based on those charges.

To defuse the controversy, the manufacturer instead called for a federally monitored secret-ballot election.

"Democracy is an important part of American culture," Volkswagen's new top man in the U.S., Michael Horn, said last month.

Despite being barred from the factory, groups like Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and the National Right to Work mounted a PR campaign opposing unionization.

Corker issued a statement saying that, based on private conversations with VW officials, the company would expand production at the plant if workers rejected a union. VW officials denied the conversations, but Corker stood by his statement.

The AFL-CIO attributed the UAW loss to "a firestorm of interference" from these politicians and outside groups. It was particularly incensed by Corker. "This was not an example of politicians expressing their opinions. These were clear and unmistakable threats by the powerful designed to interfere with the free exercise of workers’ right to vote in an election."

As opposed to the labor organization that never wanted the workers to vote in the first place.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner