In a surprise move today, the United Auto Workers dropped its effort to overturn the result of the Feb. 14 unionization election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., as my Washington Examiner colleague Sean Higgins has reported. Despite lack of opposition from Volkswagen, which was under pressure from its German union IG Metall, the UAW lost the election by a 712-626 margin. The UAW had been challenging the election at the National Labor Relations Board, with its current pro-union majority, and had subpoenaed Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker who, it claimed, had made remarks that made it, in the words of UAW President Bob King, a “tainted election.”
Haslam and Corker announced that they would not comply with the subpoenas. Federal labor law places limits on what an employer can do to oppose unionization. But my understanding is that it doesn’t place limits on what third parties can say — and I should think that the First Amendment to the Constitution would stand squarely in the way of any such limits. If Haslam and Corker can’t comment freely on a pending union election, can anyone else?
In any case, this is a stinging defeat for the UAW, whose membership peaked at 1.5 million in 1979 and at the end of 2013 was down to 391,000. The union hoped to overcome its longtime inability to organize Southern plants of foreign-based auto companies, and Volkswagen's tacit support of unionization gave it an advantage that it has not enjoyed elsewhere. In Chattanooga in the run-up to the speedily scheduled election, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform put up billboards saying, among other things, “Detroit: brought to you by the UAW.” The bankruptcy of the city of Detroit, where the UAW is headquartered, and the 2009 bankruptcies of UAW-organized General Motors and Chrysler evidently hurt the union's efforts in Tennessee.
This seems likely to end the UAW’s efforts to organize foreign-based auto plants in the South. Public officials in other Southern states are likely to chime in as Haslam and Corker did, and no other company seems as open to unionization as Volkswagen was.