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Policy: Labor

Examiner Editorial: Auto workers in Chattanooga choose freedom over unionization

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Opinion,Editorial,Labor unions,Labor,Alabama,Germany,Auto Industry,Volkswagen,Chattanooga,UAW,Washington Examiner

Imagine an election where only one side was allowed to air campaign ads and your boss strongly hinted that it would be better for your future if you voted for that side. That was pretty much the situation workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tenn., plant faced last week when they voted on the United Auto Workers' bid to unionize their plant.

Not only had VW management endorsed the union's bid, but it had given labor organizers access to the plant to lobby employees, while barring opponents. It also led employees to believe that future production expansions were contingent on UAW being accepted. "This vote was essentially gift-wrapped for the union by Volkswagen," Cliff Hammond, a labor lawyer formerly with the Service Employees International Union, told Fox News.

These facilities are not already unionized because the workers value their freedom - most states in the South have right-to-work laws.

Despite all of those advantages, the UAW could not close the deal. With 89 percent of eligible workers voting, the union bid was rejected, 712-626. The result left even some critics of the Chattanooga bid surprised.

Why was VW favoring Big Labor in the first place? Contrary to what some liberal pundits would have you believe, it wasn't because the company has recently become enlightened about trade unionism. The real reason was that the German company was under intense pressure from its union back home, IG Metall, to clear the way for the UAW. IG Metall was able to do this because European labor law gives trade unions considerable say in how companies are managed.

Chattanooga was a test case to see if these international pressure tactics could work on other foreign companies with facilities in the U.S. For the UAW, it was also best chance yet to make inroads into the traditionally union-averse South. UAW officials are working on a similar bid at a Daimler AG facility in Alabama.

The VW vote points to the major flaw in this tactic. The reason these facilities are not already unionized is that the workers value their freedom -- most states in the South have right-to-work laws -- and they don't believe union promises. They also know what the UAW's iron fist did to the Big Three automakers in Detroit, and they worried that its presence in Chattanooga would threaten both their own jobs and those of future manufacturing workers in the South.

Perhaps that’s why UAW President Bob King wanted to cut out the workers from the decision in the first place. The union had initially called on VW to accept its claim that it had gotten enough workers to sign cards saying they wanted collective bargaining. VW rejected that in favor of a federally-monitored election only after complaints of fraud against UAW were made by some plant workers.

Nevertheless, VW gave UAW the kind of cooperation that most unions never get in organizing drives — and the union still couldn’t win over a majority. The collusion between the two probably gave many workers ample reason to be suspicious of the hard sell they were getting. The UAW’s King predictably blamed the loss on opposition to collective bargaining from Republican lawmakers and conservative groups. But when a salesman can’t persuade a captive audience, it is a sign something is wrong with his product or his sales pitch, or both. Sooner or later, the UAW must face reality.

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