Volkswagen Workers Vote No On Forming Union

Tennessee union vote: Volkswagen workers at a Chattanooga factory have voted against becoming unionized even though management wasn’t necessarily opposed, an outcome which is being described as a crushing, devastating defeat for Big Labor.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “The defeat raises questions about the future of a union that for years has suffered from declining membership and influence…”

President Obama expressed support for the VW unionization drive yesterday and criticized the state’s GOP leadership for opposing it. [Separately, the president also endorsed the union-backed candidate who lost Tuesday’s San Diego mayor election.]

However, the workers rejected affiliating with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a secret-ballot vote of 712 to 626, even though VW management in an unusual move as noted above cooperated with the organizing effort. According to one labor lawyer, Volkswagen execs “gift-wrapped” the vote for the union, and it still failed.

A successful UAW vote would have allowed the union to gain an important foothold in the region. “A win would have marked the first time the union has been able to organize a foreign-owned auto plant in a Southern U.S. state, and would have been particularly meaningful, because the vote was set in a right-to-work state in the South, where antiunion sentiment is strong and all past UAW organizing drives at automobile plants have failed.”

VW management worked to some degree with the UAW organizing drive because it wanted to find a legal way to form works councils: “Volkswagen did not oppose the UAW. partly because its officials were eager to create a German-style works council, a committee of managers and blue-collar and white-collar workers who develop factory policies, on issues like work schedules and vacations. Volkswagen, which has unions and works councils at virtually all of its 105 other plants worldwide, views such councils as crucial for improving morale and cooperation and increasing productivity.”

According to one Chattanooga VW employee who voted no on the union, “Look at what happened to the auto manufacturers in Detroit and how they struggled. They all shared one huge factor: the UAW. If you look at how the UAW’s membership has plunged, that shows they’re doing a lot wrong.”

The UAW could contest the vote with the National Labor Relations Board (currently dominated by Obama appointees) on some pretext; since VW management didn’t engage in any union busting — in fact did quite the opposite — it’s difficult to discern what the grounds could be for a complaint.

Political commentator Mickey Kaus writes that VW could move forward with works councils anyway: “The most interesting part comes next: If Volkswagen now goes ahead and starts its works councils anyway, without the UAW, will organized labor sue to have them declared illegal? That would give the Roberts Court a precious opportunity to interpret the Wagner Act in a way that actually allows non-legalistic, non-adversarial forms of worker participation in management (despite the ‘company union’ prohibition). In effect, the courts could help VW create what those on the left have been (correctly) demanding of the right: a reasonable alternative to traditional unionism, giving workers a ‘voice’ without subjecting every management decision to a war of bargainers and lawyers and (ultimately) the formalized pitched battle of a strike.”

The collection of union dues from workers has become something along the lines of an ATM machine for Democrats. “Where, in fact, does the UAW in general, among other places, put its money?” In the 2013-14 campaign cycle so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, it has given $71,901 to Democrat candidates and zero, zip, nada to Republican candidates. In the 2012 cycle, it gave $1,427,731 to Democrat candidates and $45,053 in efforts against Republican candidates. Republican candidates, meanwhile, got nothing.”

Volkswagen recently celebrated the 65th anniversary of the VW Beetle.

[image credit: Thomas doerfer]