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Policy: Labor

Why Big Labor is targeting a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant

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Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Tennessee,Germany,Analysis,Volkswagen,Chattanooga,UAW

A Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga has been the subject of considerable turmoil due to an organizing effort by the United Auto Workers. This is not exactly a grassroots effort by the workers, though.

Instead, it is being driven by outside pressure from UAW, which hopes to take advantage of European labor laws to make organizing easier at foreign-owned American plants. They are so eager that they are cutting corners in the process.

Eight of the plant workers have sued UAW, alleging fraud in its organizing efforts. An anti-union group claims to have gotten 611 worker signatures demanding that no union be recognized until after a majority of workers back it in a secret ballot election.

The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 8 on the particulars of European labor law that could help the Big Labor in the US:

Recent cooperation between the UAW and Germany's IG Metall trade union is part of a broader effort by auto unions in several countries to build ties and attempt to build alliances that reflect the global scope and partnerships among the big auto makers. The UAW has sent delegations to meet with auto workers in Brazil, Japan, South Africa and South Korea.

In few places are these international ties having a clearer impact than in the US, where the UAW says it is close to organizing its first foreign-owned plant in the South because of the extra push from German workers and IG Metall. A breakthrough in Tennessee or Alabama would be a historic turn for the union and manufacturing in the union-averse South... VW's German labor leaders are supporting efforts to bring a works council, a committee of employees who negotiate work rules and conditions with management, to the factory.

A worker council is not exactly a union but it is close and it is UAW's best shot at gaining any recognition in Chattanooga.

It could happen because the European council gives unions considerable influence, including veto power over production expansions.

The UAW's strategy would work like this: IG Metall uses it leverage over VW to help their American counterparts and to insure auto the industry as a whole remains unionized rather than allow the U.S.'s right-to-work states continue to be havens for manufacturers.

VW agrees to unionizing Chattanooga to maintain peace with their German unions and to continue expansion. UAW then gets a foothold in the American South.

Everyone wins, except for those workers who were already happy at the plant and saw no need for a union in the first place.

The kicker to all of this is that VW needs the U.S. plants to stay competitive due to the sluggishness of the heavily-unionized European economy.

As the Journal noted: "Because Europe has a stagnant population and is mired in a prolonged economic slump, the region is unlikely to see much growth in auto sales at all for years.

"That has forced auto makers there to close factories or idle production lines. The US, in contrast, has a growing population, has rebounded from its financial crisis and is enjoying robust new-car sales."

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Author:

Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner