By on October 27, 2011

“I see no need for union representation,” says Adrian Leslie, line worker at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant. “We are being treated fairly here.”

If it would be him alone to decide, then any plans of the UAW to unionize Volkswagen Chattanooga are doomed. Leslie is not alone in his opinion, and the plans are doomed.

Leslie had given up a 7 ½ year job at a distribution company in Chattanooga, because “the job I had before was considered a job, but I was actually looking for was a career.” He is 1 ½ year into his career at Volkswagen and thinks that “the working conditions here are excellent. This company is going a long way.”

Colleague Kristy Hill, who is fitting suspensions of the new Passat with Leslie, would be a tough target for union organizers: ”I haven’t heard a lot about the unions, I’d have to make a lot of research before I would make a decision,” says the resolute lady who held part time jobs before she was hired by Volkswagen 1 ½ years ago. “I love it,” Ms. Hill says. “This is it – this will be my last job.”

The two, randomly interviewed at our visit to Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, echo the sentiment at the bright, airy and clean Volkswagen plant in a wooded valley in the outskirts of Chattanooga.  When the two signed on 1 ½ years ago, they were paid $14.50 per hour, even during training. Now they are on their way to $19.50 per hour. A Detroit tier two UAW worker makes $15.50 per hour at Ford. After the labor deal with the UAW, the tier two wage will rise to $19.28, the same as at GM.

After 36 months at Volkswagen, the hourly wage does not only exceed the future tier two wage in Detroit. There is additional shift pay, there are quarterly performance bonuses, a choice of medical plans, and a host of other benefits. Visits to the on-site doctor are free, a gym is open 24/7. A company lease program is so attractive that half of the cars on the employee parking lot are already Volkswagens, coexisting in harmony with Detroit iron.

In July, UAW President Bob King said that organizing foreign auto plants is a matter of life and death of the union. Without a union victory in the south, “I don’t think there’s a long-term future for the UAW, I really don’t,” said King.

After touring transplant plants in the south, we predict that any forays by the UAW will get bogged down in the red mud of Dixie. If it indeed is a matter of life and death as advertised, then the UAW is dead.

Southern workers seem to be largely ambivalent towards the UAW. The management of southern transplants usually does not speak out against the UAW as openly as Honda did. It does not have to, the words and actions of the workers speak for themselves.

The few times the UAW tried to unionize a transplant factory in the south ended in a debacle.

In 2001, Nissan workers in Smyrna rejected U.A.W. representation by a 2-to-1 vote, a result branded as a “devastating defeat” by  the World Socialist Website. Back then, the New York Times called the results “no better than in the union’s failed attempt to organize the same plant in 1989.” Now, the entrance to Nissan’s U.S. HQ is guarded by grim polar bears.

The UAW can’t even count on the solidarity of its union brothers in Germany.

A little later after the life and death announcement, the UAW revealed that it had targeted Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, and had meetings with the German metal workers union in order to drum up support. Those meetings were not highly successful. Soon thereafter, Bernd Osterloh, head of Volkswagen’s works council who represents labor of VW’s supervisory board, told Reuters he would not actively promote efforts by the United Auto Workers to broaden its membership in Chattanooga.

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145 Comments on “UAW Not Welcome In The South...”


  • avatar
    bodayguy

    Nowadays, no union is worth a thing to someone on the job 1.5 years. The ONLY thing unions care about anymore is seniority – the economy means any true bargaining power is gone.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      bodayguy hit the nail on the head. For someone on the wrong side of 40, seniority rules provide some protection against arbitrary lay-off in favor of a lower paid, younger worker. Unionized companies tend to have retirement benefits.

      That said, there is a fly in the ointment – companies can relocate production to lower wage countries and private equity hedge funds often buy companies with leveraged deals, i.e. borrowed money, then cannibalize pension funds in the name of creating value.

    • 0 avatar
      damikco

      Once this worker of 1.5 years gets dismissed or laid off he will not have the same feelings. Also to call the auto industry a “Career” proves that really dont know what he is talking about.

  • avatar
    M.S. Smith

    So when did TTAC start publishing thinly disguised company propaganda.

    Seriously, this is a really weird post to read here. I know it’s cool to hate unions and all, but all this says is “We don’t need no stinkin unions! Everything’s lovely!”

    Which is, of course, exactly what the PR department of every single company in America will tell you when asked.

    All I know is, when my mother went to work for Honda, it was a disaster. First, they wanted her to work in the paint department without safety equipment they already said they needed to provide, then somehow forgot.

    She didn’t feel safe there, so she went to work on dashboards. That work was ok, but the company only allowed 15 minute breaks and, because of the size of the plant, it took 15 minutes just to walk to the break area. This cut into lunch in similar fashion.

    Oh, but you weren’t allowed to have food anywhere near your workstation. You couldn’t even eat in the bathroom. If you were caught doing that, you received a warning.

    They really needed a union, but that would never happen. That’s the beauty of at-will employment. You can’t be fired for talking about a union…so they’ll just fire you because you ate a candy bar in the bathroom on your break.

    • 0 avatar

      My friend, we went there. The other guy in the picture is Ed, asking the questions. We did not ask the PR department, we asked workers. Unprepped, picked from the line.

      • 0 avatar
        Birddog

        Thanks for that. You know this is going to turn into a Union/anti-Union bitch fest though.

        As a 15 year vet of a non-automotive union I can say for certain that when the Stuff hits the fan they will dump you and never look back.

        The UAW, Teamsters, UA, IBEW, and such isn’t in need of new members, they need a reorganization and less bureaucracy.

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        So far we’re pretty sure you spoke with 2 workers. In this economy of fear and loathing what would 2 people making subsistence wages say to strangers in middle class garb. I might venture to say – how would they respond to white people in middle class garb and strange accents.

        This isn’t science – just a false extrapolation.

        how would you compare the average worker’s life in non union america with that in union germany?

        What if the UAW collapsed – what would VW South pay then?

        What if a manager doesn’t like someone?

        What if they decided to cut wages by 30%.

      • 0 avatar
        mikedt

        I can believe it. I know when I went on a tour of the Honda car and motorcycle plants in Ohio I could not get over how clean the plant was and how generally happy the employees seemed. If you treat your workers fairly, union organizing has a steep uphill climb.

      • 0 avatar
        jaje

        If the UAW folded – the VW workers will make the same wages. Frankly, most of the protections that unions were created / needed for all those decades ago have been put into laws / regulations / industry practices. Unfortunately in today’s global competitive market those companies saddled with union labor have to deal with another middle man organization that is most often confrontational which limits that hosts competitiveness (less flexibility) against other non union US and abroad manufacturers.

        If and only if, the UAW unionized an import factory – the first thing I’d expect them to do is close the plant down and move production elsewhere. I think that VW employees understand that if they are treated fairly by their employer and protected by state laws – the need for another level of meddling management collecting union dues is simply obsolete.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Thanks Bertel!
        The reason for the conditions within the VW plant is due to the UAW. It is the threat of becoming a UAW plant that keeps things in tip-top shape. Without the UAW, it can be a near certainty that conditions in automobile assembly plants would not be where they are today.

        This is similar to any other competitive situation. In the pre-Union days, jobs within an auto plant were very different. Today cars are assembled very differently than they were at the peak of American unionization in 1955. Times have changed, but the Union has not kept up. While there has been continual improvement within the Union regarding a need to reflect the needs of their members, competition for happy healthy workers within the industry has made auto manufacturers meet and sometimes exceed Union standards. Consequently, workers in non-union plants don’t see a need to unionize.

        Let’s also look at the culture. In Detroit in 1940, an auto worker not only worked within a giant manufacturing plant, he lived within a different-thinking society. Industrialism wasn’t just for factories, it was a way of life. It’s beliefs were factored into many facets of Detroit society. It was easier to understand why one unionized within this kind of society.

        And Bertel and I can personally testify how different it is to have been raised within a Northern European-based culture, than it would be if we were raised within a rural Southern culture.
        The South didn’t experience this shift to the extent that the Northern US states experienced it. While there were pockets of heavy industry within the South, it is a more rural society untouched by this way of thinking.

        I find non-unionized folks to have a higher priority on personal responsibilty reflective of their feelings of personal empowerment within their culture, than unionized folks. While both feel the need to be personally responsible for their lives, unionized workers recognize how small an individual could be within the traditional manufacturing environment.

        But traditional manufacturing environments is not what we are discussing here at the Chattanooga VW plant. There has been enough changes over the past sixty years in these kinds of assembly plants to have it evolve away from a union-friendly place the UAW could expand into. As long as VW continues to keep the bar set as high as it is, they will not have a UAW to work with.

        The UAW needs to get with the times, or they are history.

      • 0 avatar
        eldard

        What if the manager doesn’t like someone because that someone is lazy? Wow. mind = blown

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        probert: So far we’re pretty sure you spoke with 2 workers. In this economy of fear and loathing what would 2 people making subsistence wages say to strangers in middle class garb.

        They aren’t making “subsistence level” wages. They are making wages commensurate with their skills and what VW expects of them. In the real world, people making subsistence level wages in the U.S. do not produce quality cars. The other foreign companies operating plants in the United States figured this out many years ago, and I’m sure that VW has as well.

        Of course, this cuts both ways – I don’t believe that UAW members are overpaid, either. But it suggests that the UAW needs to realize that the successful companies in this country operate under a system where the worker’s input is valued and expected. This requires more of the worker, but it also implies less natural antagonism towards management. Which means that the UAW, being heavily associated with the “us-versus-them” mentality in the workplace, needs to figure out exactly what it offers workers in exchange for representation (aside from the opportunity to pay union dues).

        probert: I might venture to say – how would they respond to white people in middle class garb and strange accents.

        Yes, because as we all know, it’s still 1925 south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and every African-American cowers in fear at the approach of any well-dressed white person. They don’t talk to those strange white folk unless Miss Scarlett and Mr. Butler tell them to…

        probert: how would you compare the average worker’s life in non union america with that in union germany?

        Having actually been to Germany, and having relatives who work in the German car industry, I can assure you that non-union workers at American transplant factories live as well as a German line worker.

        Actually, by some measures, they live better, because housing and cars are cheaper in the United States than they are in Germany.

        probert: What if the UAW collapsed – what would VW South pay then?

        Probably what it pays them now, as it would still have to compete for workers with the American factories of Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota.

        probert: What if a manager doesn’t like someone?

        They might fire them. Having worked in the real world, I can assure you that when management doesn’t “like someone,” it’s usually a two-way affair. The worker isn’t entirely blameless.

        probert: What if they decided to cut wages by 30%.

        Then VW would lose all of its best workers, take a hit on productivity, and lose money. Which is why VW won’t do it.

        What if the evil flying monkeys sent by the Wicked Witch of the West swoop in and abduct the VW workers and take them off to her castle? Wait, if they just join the UAW, this will never happen…

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        mikedt, when I visited the Hyundai plant in Montgomery I noticed the attitudes of the workers was one of quiet confidence. Clearly a plant where the UAW had struck out.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        And who says anything but what the boss wants to hear when the boss is standing there with the visitor asking questions?

        You guys should have asked a few employees away from the job, off the premises. Bought them dinner or something.

    • 0 avatar
      car_guy2010

      Just because a couple of autoworkers say that they don’t need an union, does not mean that they speak for their co-workers!

      Though in their case, the working conditions and everything seems to be in order. Unless they have problems with the labor itself (work overload, staffing issues, job vagueness, intimidation, etc), then they may be fine without an union.

      I really wish people would stop demonizing the unions and their members. It’s not rosy at every single company and in this horrible economy, a job a is a very valuable asset. Where I work, we could certain use an union not because of money, but because of those same, direct labor issues mentioned.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Bob King must think these people are really brainwashed.

    Even if their wages were slightly lower than the union jobs up North, they might still be ahead with a lower cost of living and no union dues to pay.

    Personally, I suspect union representation will eventually increase among white collar workers, whose exempt salary status often translates into unlimited free overtime for the employer. Airline pilots have such protection due to safety reasons, but others may eventually demand it because their employers run chronically understaffed workforces.

    • 0 avatar
      Rod Panhard

      Sorry gslippy. If that was in the cards, it would have happened decades ago. I’m a white collar guy, most of my friends are white collar people and we just don’t use work habits by time clocks. And you know what? We’re completely happy with that.

      Do you know why that is? Ask yourself, “how many smart kids in my school classes let their study habits be determined by a time clock?” Once you answer that question, you’ll know the answer.

      • 0 avatar

        Amen.

        I come in at the same time every day as a matter of routine and I work until the job is done. Since my job is not assembling “part A” all day, there is a very definite end point to my day (once I accomplish “something”). I know this isn’t true for all white collar workers (nor is the analogy true for all blue collar workers) but the fact is I am paid to do a job, and some days it is a 23 hours job (rarely), others it is 4 (rarely), and others it is 9 (always). Frankly, I don’t care. I view my market value on a yearly basis and am in a specialized enough occupation that I could go elsewhere, easily, if I felt the need.

      • 0 avatar
        slance66

        White collar government workers are unionized, and the results have been catastrophic for the taxpayer.

        I can see that it might be appropriate for lower level non-management white collar workers to be paid overtime in our new service economy. However the other civil service requirements, related to seniority based wages and last in-first out hiring are abominations. At will employment is essential, as is the ability for employers to promote those they believe are most talented, capable and hard-working. In the private sector you see a lot of older people working for younger people.

        The people I see getting ahead in my company work their tail’s off. They go far above and beyond just doing their job. Unionization destroys that incentive.

      • 0 avatar
        NLB

        I think white color unions are unlikely, but would observe that there’s a meaningful difference between working with to a time clock and working a job without the expectations that one will routinely work significant hours in excess of 40 to 45/week; be immediately reachable by cell or email outside of “business hours”, including when on vacation; and will shoulder continually-increasing workload and responsibility without commensurate increases in comp. And I think that decades ago, those expectations were significantly less common than they are today, which might give rise to the gradual shift gslippy contemplates. But hey, what do I know.

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        @Rod Panhard

        That’s pretty cold.

        But, I tend to turn my nose up at Southerners much like you turn your nose up at blue collar workers.

        The difference is, I don’t want to have that attitude anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        @slance66

        I work my ass off and so do my co-workers and we want a greater share of our hard work and prosperity. That means that we need less job vagueness (working 2-3 different positions because the company won’t hire more workers, period is one problem)and a stronger voice. I work with a lot of refugees who have been members of unions in their home countries. They are pretty damn supportive.

      • 0 avatar
        damikco

        Sorry Rod I work for GM and let me tell you how many in management or white collar regardless of work habit wished they had the same job security as us line workers and not be afraid of being dismissed because someone above didn’t like them or wanted to combine to areas of management into one to save a dollar.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        White collars unions might be useful at some employers but I think too many of us have the attitude that if you don’t like the situation, you move on to greener fields.

        My previous employer worked us routinely 45 hour a week for upper-30s pay. I was satisfied with this only b/c I was the newest guy and needed to get established. We seldom got more than VERY modest pay increases.

        As time went by it was clear to me that for me to make $50K I was going to be working 60 hour weeks often. Like 60 hours at least once a month, some months every week depending on how close we were to delivery on a project.

        It just wasn’t worth it with other easier options with better all-around opportunities. So I left and have a fairly routine work schedule and significantly better pay than the previous job and I’m in the same city so no relocation costs. When I need to work through a weekend or stay late, I’m happy to do so but it’s only a few times per year. And I usually get flex time in return. The previous employer offered neither flex time, comp time or bonuses. They have had alot of turnover as a result but the employment situation where I live means they represent some of the best pay so they always have warm bodies to fill the spots – for a while.

        Why can’t a blue collar guy do the same? I mean trade up on jobs?

      • 0 avatar
        eldard

        Because that would be a bitch. Beggars Blue collars can’t be choosers.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    The argument could be made I suppose, that the VW and other auto workers in the southern areas have it good thanks in part to the long-time efforts of the UAW. Hope for the workers sakes, the good-times remain. The true test will come when market share drops and jobs start getting cut from under people’s feet.

    Have to agree that this seems rather propogandic for TTAC.

    • 0 avatar

      They walked in, they interviewed a few randomly selected workers and they got the “Unions don’t make sense” message.

      Seems to me it’s pretty simple: If you like your employer, you don’t need a union. Unions tend to foster hatred towards their employers since it keeps them in power. Since dealing with bureaucracies tends to reduce satisfaction, it follows that having two massive bureaucracies, company and union, instead of just one, might not necessarily add to happiness.

      But the big takeaway is that many people think the UAW’s excessive demands destroyed Detroit. They’ve seen the pictures of a ruined city and don’t want theirs to become like that. Seems to me those objective facts are pretty darn good propaganda. Furthermore, there are increasing numbers of stories about how teachers’ unions are damaging education, and public service unions are destroying public service. Remember those pictures of the streets of New York, when union members refused to clean them?

      It seems to me the man or woman on the assembly line realizes unions can destroy jobs and entire industries. they don’t want it to happen to them. Not propaganda, just truth.

      D

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        You got it right there. People “think” the UAW destroyed Detroit all by themselves. Pretty clever on the manufacturers part and hurray for big business. No mention of the jobs moved to Mexico or China, in part due to the Union’s demands, but mostly because the big manufacturers don’t have to pay foreign workers squat, can work them to death for six months til they walk off and hire a new guy, and no need to worry about safety regulations getting in the way of profit because there aren’t any. There’s also no healthcare or benefits to worry about and who cared if the quality went straight in the toilet due to poor quality control, lack of educated labor, and sweatshop-esque conditions in the work place. Cheap cars. Profit. All that matters.

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        I think you’d have to leap miles and miles away to present that kind of logic here.

        The unions did NOT kill Detroit. The stupidity of Detroit’s automakers did. They rode the SUV boom until it exploded. 2 out of the 3 domestic automakers required government bailouts.

        Pretty damn simple to blame an union. Maybe it’s time you opened your mind a little? No one’s asking you to support unions. A little balance goes a long away.

      • 0 avatar
        windswords

        Delorean,

        I can only speak for Chrysler Mexican plants (in Saltillo and Toluca). They are not “sweatshops” without “safety regulations”. As a matter of fact they are environmentally friendly to boot:

        From Allpar:
        ” Derek Strohl wrote that the Saltillo plant, which has always made Dodge Rams, was originally intended to replace the 1930s-era Lago Alberto, which had pollution discharge issues and could not use water-based paint due to the size of the facility. Negotiations with Mexico resulted in a compromise, and by the time the Saltillo plant was built, Lago Alberto had been brought largely into compliance; it was closed largely due to Daimler’s takeover. Saltillo remains in production, building Dodge Ram trucks.

        Derek noted that the Saltillo factory has a zero-discharge policy; water coming out of the plant is no dirtier than the drinking water, and indeed, it produces a surplus of clean drinking water that is put into the municipal water system. Wastes are handled with an on-site treatment plant, and confined in a hazardous waste landfill near Monterrey. ”

        The Fiat 500 was recently launched at the Toluca Plant which also makes the Dodge Journey. A picture of the line is here at the top of this posting:

        http://www.allpar.com/forums/topic/132706-an-chrysler-celebrates-launch-of-fiat-500/

        It doesn’t look different than any modern US, Canadian, European, or Asian plant.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I’m inclined to agree with dolorean. It’s seems very likely that at least part of the reason workers are being treated decently is the threat of unionization that would follow if workers were treated otherwise. Take away that threat by abolishing unions altogether, however, and I’m willing to bet you’d see a very different situation in a lot of these workplaces.

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      Those jobs were moved to Mexico under a trade agreement signed by a president who had unwavering support from all major trade unions. Although Ford quality took a hit recently on gizmos, the Mexican Ford plants did not suffer from a quality problem with quality straight in the toilet. Further, every report from the Mexico plants say that the people love the work, it pays better than anything else they can get, and they do things like shop maintenance and building upkeep as a matter of course.

      Even comparing Tennessee to Michigan, the northern UAW shops got bureaucratic, regimented, and incapable of competing. It’s hard to do flexible manufacturing when you have a “work rules” book negotiated once every few years as part of pattern bargaining. What was that story TTAC ran a while back about the Toledo (?) assembly plants where seven of the eight died and one got a wake-up call and tore down the “Red Blazer/Blue Overall” wall and now works great?

      I hope for the workers’ sake in unionized auto plants that they realize that the world has changed and that the people actually working should make a union that makes sense to them — not for the retirees and the people who won the land-grab early and are high up in the hierarchy. I have never understood why somebody would accept a Tier II wage to ensure that the VEBA was sufficiently funded and people who retired 20 years ago continued to get everything they were entitled to while it was a certainty you would never get any of that and that your “representation” didn’t care.

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        As much as I liked Clinton when I was a teen, I’m not so fond of him now that I know about NAFTA, etc.

        Well, that and the fact that he cheated on his wife, which led to her political rise (shudder).

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Delorean – but why did the plants move out of the country? NAFTA or did the car makers want NAFTA to escape union demands?

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        joeaverage, there’s much more to the ‘why’ than the two choices you left me. NAFTA just made it easier for corporations to do what they wanted to do in the first place. Kill the unions, get the gummint regulation monkey off their back, and reap huge profits from cheap unskilled labor.

        car_guy, I recognize that Clinton invested NAFTA as policy, but what about the Republican run Congress of the 90′s that changed the original idea to fit their own pork-barrel agenda? They voted for it, so there’s enough blame to go around.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    When a company is doing well and the executives are good people, there is no need for unions.
    Unfortunately, this is not always the case :(

    I have always been pro union, but the last 5 years i´ve been working for a company that is solid as a rock, and runned by good people. For the time beeing i don´t really need the unions.

  • avatar
    eldard

    Union made or not, I’m never gonna buy new cars anyway. I generally hate cheap cars and electronics. You know that saying, you get what you pay for? I’d much rather buy a used Accord than get a new Civic. The ride quality on the latter really sucks in these cement roads round these parts.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    I must confess that I find this article a little odd as well. It appears more ‘anti-union’ advocacy rather than automotive journalism.

    One would think that a journalist would point out, for example, that while the ‘two’ workers interviewed did not seem very enthusiastic about the idea of unionizing, it is also possible that many workers may not feel comfortable expressing pro-union views in such a public forum (where they could be easily identified and their job put at risk for publicly saying such things). Not only does the sample size of ‘two’ seem a little small for making such strong, anti-union pronouncements, but to include absolutely no qualifying statements regarding possible pressures to not speak one’s mind while a camera is rolling or pictures and names are being recorded seems to indicate that the people asking the questions and writing the article may not be as objective as one might hope, but are perhaps constructing such articles from a strong anti-union agenda.

    • 0 avatar
      Rod Panhard

      Blogs aren’t journalism. Never were. Never will be. Blogs are just that. “Blogs.”

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      After a little reflection, I’m going to qualify the points I made above. I may have been overly harsh in calling this particular article ‘anti-union.’ I think it is safe to call it ‘anti-UAW,’ but I don’t think one should equate all unions or unionization with the UAW.

      The UAW is one particular union, and it would be just as wrong to paint all unions with the same brush as the UAW as it would be for me to treat an article dealing explicitly with the UAW as if it were an article against unions and unionization as such. So I take back my earlier claim about the article being anti-union.

      I do, however, still maintain my remarks about ‘journalism’ in general. If Rod Panhard is right, however, and this is only a blog, then obviously my ‘journalistic’ references don’t apply.

      p.s. I want to make explicit that I am making the above qualification based solely and exclusively on my own self-critical reflection. It seemed the only decent thing to do.

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        Damn right it would be wrong to paint all unions with that brush.

        Americans have a simplistic view of unions. Mention the word “union” to most and they’ll fly off at the handle about the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO and other stupid things that they were brainwashed with by the lovely U.S mainstream media.

        Not to mention that if a car site is not anti-union, they’re most certainly anti-liberal with the constant rants about the “nanny” state, Ralph Nader and other disgusting stereotypes. What, a liberal can’t love cars?

        But I’ve ranted enough. This article reminds me of why I rarely comment. While I enjoy the content of this site, I feel there’s a lot of conservative political undertones.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @Philosophil:

        I think you’re right – people are scared to say they’d be interested in joining a union these days, particularly when they’re on record about it.

        But I also think that the workers in this plant might be echoing the “going” political thinking in their area, which is overwhelmingly conservative and anti-union. Head to, say, Kokomo Indiana, and you might hear something different.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        But I also think that the workers in this plant might be echoing the “going” political thinking in their area, which is overwhelmingly conservative and anti-union. Head to, say, Kokomo Indiana, and you might hear something different.

        You’d also see something different, too.

        Lots and lots of empty factories, and a distinct lack of new billion dollar Volkswagen plants.

        Is there possibly a link here?

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        @FreedMike

        From where I know, where I live, companies cannot threaten or fire workers directly for talking openly about organizing an union.

        All the companies can do is put out their own misinformation about unions (my employer likes to claim that people in my dept will pay $530 a year in dues when they neglect to mention that no one in my department makes $53,000 a year (1% of wages for dues), hence the dues would be lower).

        I certainly understand the frustration towards the UAW but I kindly ask once again that people don’t judge ALL unions the same way. If workers at my place of employment unionize and we uncover corruption, that corruption will be rooted out.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @carguy:

        In theory, no, you can’t be fired specifically for joining or trying to organize a union. In practice, you can be fired for just about anything else, especially if it’s in an at-will state. I’ve worked at places where people who publicly started talking about a union got walked out under mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. It happens.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        I don’t see any issue with an at-will environment were I can be fired for any reason my employer wants.

        I can certainly quit my job for any reason that I want, right? It’s only fair if it works the other way too.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @bikegoesbaa
        The folks on the assembly line don’t design and engineer the cars. They don’t decide how to market them. They don’t decide how to price them. The plain fact of the matter is that high wages were just one factor in the downfall of the Big Three – if they had designed and marketed cars that people wanted, they’d have been more than happy to pay union wages for people to make them.

      • 0 avatar
        aspade

        The two biggest problems dealing with unions aren’t pay and benefits.

        They’re “that’s my job, pal!” and “that’s not my job, pal!”

        Keeping an organization efficient means skill sets constantly change and positions change with them. Tell that to the guys with 25 years seniority doing it the old way.

        Detroit’s market share didn’t collapse in 2000 when their union benefits caught up with them. It collapsed in the 70s and 80s when buyers discovered an assembly line straight out of WW2 couldn’t build a complex car that actually worked.

        Using hand tools and eyeballs where Japan used fixtures and robots. That was on the union.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        The two biggest problems dealing with unions aren’t pay and benefits.

        They’re “that’s my job, pal!” and “that’s not my job, pal!”

        Um, no. The lineworker, and the costs dealing with them, aren’t really the problem at all. If there was a problem—and in the last decade this hasn’t been the case—it was benefit obligations.

        Keeping an organization efficient means skill sets constantly change and positions change with them. Tell that to the guys with 25 years seniority doing it the old way.

        Again, no. No modern plant is run in such a way that a lineworker’s experience can have any significant impact on productivity. It’s fun to think that there are old-school steel-bangers holding everything up, but the truth of the matter is that these people are cogs in a machine.

        If they’re falling behind, it’s because plant management sucks.

        Detroit’s market share didn’t collapse in 2000 when their union benefits caught up with them. It collapsed in the 70s and 80s when buyers discovered an assembly line straight out of WW2 couldn’t build a complex car that actually worked.

        Using hand tools and eyeballs where Japan used fixtures and robots. That was on the union.

        This is so wrong on so many levels. For one, the Europeans couldn’t build a complex car that worked, either, while Toyota was building cars no more complex than the Americans were.

        Lastly, GM went full-bore bananas for robots long, long before the Asians did. They sucked, again, because even if a choir of angels came down from heaven with the Archangel Michael as their foreman, they couldn’t have done squat with the garbage designs and supplier-squeezed parts they were given.

        The problem, if you look, was that the American makes decided they didn’t need to design, test or warranty their product, and that consumer could pound sand. None of this had anything to do with the guys on the line.

        What you’re saying might have been the case in the 1960s, but that still doesn’t excuse the domestics the decades since then when the worker was taken out of the equation and they still made crap. Trying to say they never recovered from problems almost a half-century ago is letting management off the hook.

      • 0 avatar
        aspade

        GM didn’t begin to automate until the 80s. Because the UAW wouldn’t let them. The 15 years of post-smog junk immediately leading up to that (and that destroyed their market and mind share forever) were built basically the same way that they’d been in 1950.

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    You don’t know you need a union until you need The Union – by then it’s too late.

    Also, has anyone looked into how many of employees have been let go since the opening of the plant? For what reason?

    If there are any, were they justifiably let go? Ask them if they would have liked some representation at anytime during that process?

    If you do no wrong things are pretty simple inside the plants. If someone wrong you, good luck without having a stewart who while representing your concerns can tell a supervisor that he is an idiot.

  • avatar
    Madroc

    Bertel may think these are just random line workers, but unless it’s VW policy to let strangers show up unannounced and poke around, they may not be as “random” as he thinks. I suspect he has unwittingly participated in a union-avoidance campaign.

    OTOH, unions have never been very strong in the South (one reason US manufacturing has moved there in the last 30 years) and it’s hard to see what tangible benefit junior VW workers would derive from UAW representation. So who knows.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Speaking as someone who has worked with an assembly line quite a bit in the past year, the idea of “seeding” a running line with Potemkin Village yes-men just because a few people from a blog are in the vicinity makes me chuckle. “Line down” time costs the company about $25,000 a minute. No manufacturer would take the risk of downing a major line just to hoodwink some autojourno.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @Jack….Line down costs?…If your if your line is 60 jph. Every minute your down cost you the profit of one unit. I doubt VW is making 25k a car.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        @mikey: It’s the whole supply-chain disruption. There’s your car, but then there’s the back, disruption, inventory costs, cash flow, scheduling and so forth.

        It’s nastier the further up the supply chain you go. For example: puting the windshield on at the end of one line in a plant versus, say, idling three plants because you can’t get transmissions out the door at Powertrain.

    • 0 avatar
      jhott997

      The workers at the VW plant would get no benefit from joining the UAW. That is the point. The workers know this. They are smart, rational people.

      • 0 avatar
        GS650G

        Many posters here can’t fathom that people would come to that conclusion and make up their own minds. the Unions believe the same about their members, sheep in need of leadership.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        The TN VW workers are also working during a recession in a right-to-work aka right-to-fire state where pleasing the boss by saying the right things is a good thing. They are certainly grateful to have good jobs and don’t want to poison their future work opportunities.

  • avatar
    jhott997

    It amuses me to read the folks defend the “unionized rust belt” and dismiss this blog as “anti-union trash”.
    I worked for 10 years as an engineer at a Detroit OEM in a UAW environment. I can tell you for a fact that the work rules, the excuses and the downright laziness that is ALLOWED and ACCEPTED is the ruin of “Detroit”.
    The UAW environment has created, over decades, such a rotten environment that the simple fact of expecting work to be accomplished at a certain time is met with fierce push back and excuses by the UAW represented employee. They simply don’t answer to anybody anymore and it is a HUGE problem!

    The impression that people have of a “UAW represented” employee is a true impression and the VW workers know this! They don’t want it!!!!
    Why would they want it?!!
    I left Detroit out of frustration and disappointment at wasted resources and wasted opportunities by myself and engineers around me. I moved south.

    I can tell you:
    1: People down here don’t give a rat’s a$$ about “Detroit” and whether or not it “survives”.
    2: The people outside of “Detroit” have an impression of it and the message to those in “Detroit” is that you better listen and accept it because it is a true impression. If you don’t accept, which I see no evidence that you have, then you will most assuredly fail again. This time you will not get bailed out by the reluctant taxpayer who would enjoy a bail out on their mortgage and kid’s college tuition debt.

    Look in the mirror Detroit… Stop blaming others.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      In my somewhat short career, I have worked in the Detroit metro, got laid off, went down south for 3 or so years and now I’m back in Detroit.

      It isn’t as dramatic as you describe it, but there is a self entitlement mentality in MI. In terms of productivity, I’d say a plant down south is just as productive as one up north if you remove work rules and allow flexible operating patterns.

      There are some signs of progress for UAW represented plants: Twin Cities, Orion Assy come to mind.

      The southern culture has a certain pride and value they hold towards ‘what God has blessed them with.’ The North, not so much. That is the biggest difference. It’s about being happy with what you have, not what you think you deserve.

      • 0 avatar
        GS650G

        Contentment is a virtue in short supply these days.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        But can you remove the work rules and allow flexible operating patterns? I’ve dealt with UAW employees that came south for project training and every time out of a dozen employees there were one or two that – if it was up to me – would be looking for a job that day. All the company I worked for was doing was training them how to run a machine. Push buttons and pull levers on an assembly line machine. The same goes for local employers with UAW shops. Those are complicated shops to accomplish anything in. Walk in and first thing you’re given a 65 page union rule book. Anywhere else in town or this state and we got the safety lectures and little else.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      1: People down here don’t give a rat’s a$$ about “Detroit” and whether or not it “survives”.

      This is the reason I am less than impressed with Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” ad campaign. I equate “Detroit” with “failure.” I no more want a car associated with that label as I do with Yugoslavia or Nigeria. (This isn’t a bash on domestics–just on the city of Detroit and its baggage. I can fully support a good domestic car–just don’t bring up “Detroit” when selling it to me.)

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        redav, the “Imported from Detroit” ad campaign uses images from Detroit in an attempt to tie current cars to the golden years of Chrysler. I observed considerably more graffitti in person, but the Detroit metro area is a fun place to visit if you like cars. It’s also unfair to blame the general dysfunction of the City of Detroit on the UAW. The city government corruption and incompetence go way beyond the worst workplace problems with the UAW.

  • avatar
    JJ

    Seems to me like there’s a bit of a logical fallacy going on here:

    UAW = Union
    But…
    Union ≠ UAW

    So TTAC, true to its libertarian roots, tries to argue once more against the need for unions, but the ‘we don’t need no stinkin’ UAW’ argument used does not really prove the point in any way…

    And also; seriously what are you going to expect two 1,5 year employees who will be named in an article to say about their employer? It’s probably true in this case but if it wasn’t they wouldn’t be telling you unless things would be completely unacceptable.

  • avatar
    mike978

    I am surprised the anti-VW crowd hasn`t come on here decrying socialised medicine (free Doctor on site) and other European evils! As to JJ’s point above I agree that two new employees would likely say positive things. But Bertel and Ed could pick up from their body language and tone if it was genuine, words on a page don`t always convey the true meaning. VW has a reputation as a good employer and being European are probably a little more enlightened than most.

    Say what you will about VW (they make good and bad decisions) but they seem a well run and growing company. Will be interesting to see how the Passat fares in the market.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    My gut feeling tells me that the UAW has little to no shot of unionizing any of these plants that are not operated by the Detroit automakers.

    But this article doesn’t prove that, not by any stretch of the imagination.

    If you really wanted to know what the workers are thinking, you would have interviewed more of them, confidentially, and off site. You wouldn’t publish their names and photos, and you’d go to great lengths to make sure that management didn’t know who you had interviewed and that those interviewed could be confident that they could not be identified. (It would be preferable if the management didn’t know that you had interviewed anyone at all prior to this being published.)

    At best, it’s naive to think that workers who are quietly planning to unionize are going to tell you about it, while they’re at the plant, on the clock, with their bosses near by, and with you publishing their names and pictures for everyone to see. At worst, it makes you look like cynical biased shills who confuse advocacy with investigation.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      Hear, hear!

      As a journalist at a weekly small-town news rag (in Tennessee, no less), I can tell you my editor would heavily scrutinize me if I included those two quotes and more or less based an entire article on them. I wouldn’t put it past him to cut the article altogether if I couldn’t come up with a different storyline.

      Pch101 is right. The two employees interviewed would be highly unlikely to say anything along the lines of, “Yeah, I’d love for a union to come in.” Not with their bosses standing nearby, not while they’re on the clock. What Pch suggests is exactly how the interviews should have been conducted if the goal was to get a fairly accurate, objective barometer of union/anti-union sentiment in the plant. A wider swath of employees would have to be selected from various parts of the line, contacted in a way that doesn’t tip off management, and interviewed away from the job site after work hours. Identities would have to remain confidential to ensure no retaliation possibility. Walking up to them on the production line while the suits are giving you a guided tour through the plant may not get you an honest answer, for understandable reasons.

      Now, having said all that, I think the response you’d get if you did it the way Pch suggests would still be pretty similar. A wage of $14.50 per hour isn’t too shabby, given the cost of living here, even if you live in Chattanooga proper. The $19.50 top-out is better than just about any non-maintenance worker factory job I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve lived in Tennessee my entire life. Workers at Nissan’s Smyrna plant are probably doing similarly well for themselves. In this economy, who in their right mind would complain about that (as long as the working conditions are decent)?

    • 0 avatar
      I_Like_Pie

      I personally know about a sizable portion of the VW Chattanooga employees.

      Despite the lack of statistical evidence with a 2 person sample…I can say with 100% certainty that they mirror the sentiment of the employees as a whole.

      I sound like a broken record anytime a VW Chattanooga article pops up here (look me up – in every one).

      A union is not welcome here at this time, and they are crazy to think that they have any influence over the management or employees at this plant. They are simply unneeded as there is a healthy relationship between the two parties.

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    From personal experience (my wife and myself), unions are completely in the pocket of management. Unions exist primarily for the benefit of the crooks that run them – certainly not the workers. And this hasn’t come about overnight. In 1969 I worked in a Chicagoland machine shop and the owner was bringing in a union so he would only have to deal solely with its management. He certainly wasn’t doing this for the benefit of the workers.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    This is the reason that all the new auto assembly plants are located in the south; there is a general distrust of labor unions down here. That coupled with the south’s “right to work” status will make southern auto plants (and other heavy industry) impregnable to the UAW and organizations of a similar ilk.

    I am actively involved in industrial development projects and I see the southern states (Alabama in particular) win every time over their northern (especially northeastern & Michigan) counterparts. It’s refreshing.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    The UAW is peddling a solution in search of a problem. For them, it’s not about rescuing abused workers, it’s about rescuing the UAW.

    • 0 avatar

      Best comment i have ever read on this topic on here.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      This ball’s in the automakers’ court. If they truly want to get rid of unions, then the way to do it is to obviate the need for them. But if they pull a Wal-Mart and try to treat their employees like neanderthals, then the workers will change their tune quickly…and the UAW will come in and organize.

      Like I said…ball’s in the automakers’ court. We’ll see what they do with it.

  • avatar
    murphysamber

    My impression when I was at the factory? Everyone seemed really proud of what they were doing and happy to be part of the company. My impression of the opinion of the people of Chattanooga the night before myself and about 90 other VW dealer personal took the tour: People down there love that VW dropped a ton of cash and opportunity in their backyard, and damn anyone who wants to come in and screw things up. And the perception is that the UAW wants to do just that. I’ve lived in Michigan for 7yrs now and I have less of tolerance for the UAW argument than when I lived on the east coast. The whole “they wouldn’t be paid that wage if not for the UAW” doesn’t work for me. VW is going to pay what they feel is appropriate to keep the right people in the company for the long haul. Training a new recruit has to be much costlier than keeping an experienced person in place. Union vs Manufacturer always strikes me as a mutually assured destruction relationship. Like the soviets, someone eventually runs out of money to continue the standoff, and there really isn’t a victor in any of it. Maybe it’s because I stopped being a socialist when I developed a work ethic an didn’t have time to follow Phish around anymore, but I have a hard time believing that the UAW is out to do anything other than make workers hate work for the sake of dues.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    This thread seems to be an example of the old line: “Who are you gonna believe: me or your lyin’ eyes?” How hard is it to understand that, given a choice, a person would choose not to have to carve off a piece of his paycheck to the union . . . which he perceives as not adding any value to his life?

    The key to all of this is that in these states, there can be no “closed shop.” The so-called “right to work” rule. So a worker in a union organized shop cannot be compelled to join the union (or pay union dues) as a condition of employment.

    Given that choice, what rational 29-year old would pay for a union which has agreed to let the company pay him less than the 48-year old guy standing next to him, doing the same job and working the same hours?

    Really, how stupid would a person have to be to go for that deal?

    In the closed shop states (like Michigan, etc.) the new worker just has to suck it up and pay the freight . . . if he wants the job . . . and hope that someday it will have been worth his while to do so.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Given that choice, what rational 29-year old would pay for a union which has agreed to let the company pay him less than the 48-year old guy standing next to him, doing the same job and working the same hours?

      The 29 year old worker who hopes to work there for a long time would be wise to think about what could happen to him when he turns 48.

      The worker who doesn’t plan to live until age 48 might think differently, of course.

      • 0 avatar
        aspade

        An sensible philosophy.

        Fifty years ago when America was firmly on top of the world, globalization was how many airfields SAC had in foreign countries, and big three bankruptcy was unthinkable.

        Today? That 29 year old worker knows he’s lucky to have a living wage job at all and getting greedy on seniority’s behalf will get the whole plant moved to Mexico long before he’s seniority himself.

        The world was a simpler place once but wishing won’t bring it back.

      • 0 avatar
        eldard

        America being on top of the world back then wasn’t even on its own merit. It was for the simple fact that Germany and Japan were in ruins.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        There are still people who will complain themselves right out of a job but they are few. Back in the sixties several employers left this small TN town b/c the employees decided they weren’t getting a big enough cut of the money and tried to unionize. That left my draftsman grandfather out of work through no fault of his own. He had to move to Nashville and start over.

        When an employer like an automaker sets up shop it costs billions. When a small factory sets up to make widgets, it’s easy to pack up and move to another warehouse further south.

        There has to be a balance. Reasonable pay and working conditions for everyone.

    • 0 avatar
      damikco

      DC Bruce Im a UAW member and the “closed shop” rule hasnt be uses in over 30 years. No one is forced to join the union to have a job and you dont have to pay dues if you dont wish to.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Bertel + Ed:

    Thanks for going down there, checking things out and talking with people in person!

    If VW opened a factory like that up here, I’d be pretty enticed.

    Hell, they could knock down some of the 20,000 blighted properties in Philly and build one right here!

    A kid can dream…

    • 0 avatar
      I_Like_Pie

      They did exactly that in the 70′s right outside of Pittsburgh.

      It didn’t really work out all that well and was shut down in 1987. I highly doubt they will return.

      • 0 avatar
        philadlj

        “Initially, the plant was highly successful, but numerous factors contributed to a sharp decline in sales of the cars manufactured at Westmoreland and the factory’s ultimate demise:

        increased competition in the North American small car market,

        easing of the period’s fuel crisis,

        poorly received changes to the character of the cars,

        VWoA’s long product life-cycle,

        the internal economics of the plant itself,

        persistant labor unrest at the plant,

        poor networking between Westmoreland and Volkswagen headquarters in Germany.”

        Aw, c’mon, that’s all? Live and learn, VW! Come on back to PA!

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      The fact that both cities are union towns makes it highly unlikely that VW and others will relocate or build factories there.

  • avatar
    sco

    What surprises me most about this article is that workers at the VW plant and apparently in Detroit as well will be paid up to nearly $20/hr which by my calculations comes out to about $38K per year. This would keep your family of 4 above the poverty line but seems to me to be a far cry from a solid middle class wage. Maybe I’m warped but at that wage these guys are not buying the cars they are asembling as Henry Ford might have hoped.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      i think that depends on where you live. Thirty-eight a year here in Denver for a family of four probably would not work, unless you wanted to live in a really run down area. But that might be passable in a small city in Tennessee – not great, but passable (assuming, of course, that Mrs. doesn’t work, which is a bunk assumption these days).

      That’s why these plants are locating in rural areas in the South – cost of living is a lot less, so they can pay lower wages. The anti-union crowd would see it as an anti-union move, but i think it’s mainly just cost of living. Makes sense.

      I think a LOT of industrial production that depends on skilled labor is moving out of the north for that reason, and it has little to do with unions – the fact of the matter is that a living wage anywhere on the East Coast is going to be a LOT higher than it would be in Tennessee because of basic cost of living.

      There are two ways to change that: either lower the cost of living in expensive areas, or move to place with a lower cost of living. That’s what’s happening. It doesn’t hurt these automakers that in the south, the prevailing politics are right wing, and that comes with a strong anti-union sentiment. But a lot depends on the employers – if they try to treat their workers like Wal-mart does, they’ll soon find them changing their tune on unions.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        There are also transportation issues to consider. These plants are located in rural areas, where there isn’t much congestion, and new roads and railroad spurs can be easily built.

        Compare this to say, the Philadelphia region, where the main artery into the city and suburbs – the Schuylkill Expressway – regularly sees traffic grind to a halt even on a Saturday afternoon, and there is strong opposition to the construction of any new roads or railway lines by established communities.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        It’s a lot of things. Bang-for-the-buck cost of living for the bulk of the workforce is probably a lot of it.

        Cheap greenfield real estate doesn’t hurt, either. Factories take up a lot of space, so land costs aren’t irrelevant, and it’s easier, cheaper and faster to build a large, purpose-built facility in the middle of a field than it is in a built-up urban area. Combine open space with good rail and highway access, and it could be a winning location.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Pch said something about the cheap greenfield, which I can’t argue against. IIRC, when the MB plant went in at Vance, AL, MB got the land for free, the utilities put in for free, roads built for free and tax abatement for 15 or 20 years.

        It’s obviously very hard to compete with a package like that. Most other cities and states cannot put together a deal like that. I can remember state and local officials in Georgia (where I lived at the time) were quite upset because they were upstaged by Alabama. Eventually, Georgia got it’s ‘furrin’ car plant, the KIA motors plant in West Point. By then, though, Ford and GM had left Metro Atlanta.

        Most all big manufacturing facilities get a package like that now, but at the time, Vance was unique.

  • avatar
    scroggzilla

    Historically speaking, unions have never been welcome anywhere in the South.

    • 0 avatar
      M.S. Smith

      Unions not being welcome in a right-wing stronghold. I’m just shocked.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Does Washington DC count as the South?

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        At the time it was founded, Washington, D.C., was considered a southern city. Its location was a concession to the southern states, and encouraged them to ratify the Constitution.

        This perception held until the postwar years and the advent of widespread air conditioning. In the days before air conditioning, the federal government shut down in the summer because the city was so miserably hot.

        I believe it was President John F. Kennedy who once said that Washington, D.C., combined southern efficiency with northern charm.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    I worked in a plant in the South. It was great, clean facility, nice people. I specifically avoided UAW plants when I had the opportunity. I heard enough horror stories from fellow engineering students, that I determined it is something that I would avoid all together. If the UAW is also limiting the pool of management employees in this way, they are probably negatively affecting the quality of the management also. Something that is constantly held as the problem with UAW manufacturing facilities.

    I’m also amused by the UAW defenders who have never set foot in a manufacturing facility. They don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I’ll throw this out as a question for mikey and anyone else who feels like tackling it: is there a systemic bias or antipathy in the UAW/CAW toward shop uniforms?

    The VW folks in the pics have snazzy, nice-looking gear, and pictures from plants in Europe and Asia almost always show some sort of uniform. UAW plants, on the other hand, are invariably staffed by people who look like they rolled out of bed straight onto the shop floor.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Depends on company policy.

      Some companies provide x number of uniforms per year in the collective agreement and/or as part of your employment contract and/or your contract requires you to confirm to a dress code and pay for your own. Also, the ago and design of the plant, as well as the job in question (pre- or post-grease) plays a part.

      In the case of many UAW/CAW shops, no one on either side wants to foot the bill any more than necessary, so you wear what you will.

      I know that in the two UAW shops I worked in, we provided blue coveralls and caps that looked like total hell in short order because of the environment (because of ambient grease) and in the other everyone looked like astronauts because paint and fibreglass required bodysuits and ventilators . In the first case, the company footed the bill for them only periodically and you cannot wash out industrial grease easily, in the second, it didn’t really matter what you wore under the space-suit, and you probably didn’t want it to be your sunday best anyway.

      Plus, both plants had no significant air conditioning. That affects matters.

      In the case of these VW photos, this is best-case environment. A lot of UAW/CAW plant workers look like this, too, just not everywhere in the plant.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @ bumpy ii…..I would have gladly worn a uniform. However it wasn’nt a job requirement.

      But I will tell you this sir. I’m the son of a Canadian/British Army officer. My dad never left the house without a tie. Never, in my adult life have I ever rolled out of bed and gone straight out of the door. Dad might have been gone for 17 years, but I never fogot his lessons.

      • 0 avatar
        eldard

        Back then people, even the poor in poor countries, made it a point to dress up. Now it’s all about shorts and flip flops. Mediocrity is encouraged in our civilization.

    • 0 avatar
      silverkris

      The recently closed NUMMI plant (the GM-Toyota joint venture) in Fremont, CA, was a UAW shop. The staff wore neat uniforms, both line people and management.

      Contrary to the stereotypes about UAW workers, that plant produced quality cars to the very end of its life. From what I’ve witnessed, the workers were proud of their work and products.

      It’s now a Tesla factory, but with much fewer workers than before.

  • avatar
    Yeah_right

    I graduated as a car-infatuated engineer and had a chance to work at Chrysler’s Highland Park plant, a dinosaur even in the 80′s. For a fresh college grad, your first job was supervisor of a union crew on the night shift.

    Fortunately my love for Mopar didn’t fog my decision too badly. I went to work at a non-union chemical plant in Tennessee. Not nearly as cool, but 20+ years now of working with operators and mechanics who care about the company, take pride in their work, and are smart and very good at what they do.

    Union advocates may think it’s management brainwashing that keeps unions out. Not in my experience. It’s people who recognize that union intereference would cost them money and make work life far worse.

  • avatar

    Some comments on the comments:

    - This was no representative market study and did not claim to be one. If someone wants one, then I’ll be happy to send an estimate.
    - “Man in the street” ( or in this case, woman and man on the assembly line) interviews are part of the journalistic repertoire. As opposed to some alleged man in the street interviews allegedly conducted by the MSN, these were real.
    - The interviews weren’t conducted by a man with a strange accent, unless you think Ed Niedermeyer’s accent is strange.
    - The questions had not been pre-cleared with management.
    - During the interview, no management representative was in earshot. We had one lone chaperone (no company lets two reporters with a camera and a tape machine roam the factory floor unaccompanied), the chaperone kept his distance during the interview.
    - After the interviews, no results were cleared with anyone.
    - This interview was our idea, and frankly, we are still amazed that it was made possible on an ad-hoc basis
    - We are very grateful to Volkswagen for their trust, both in us and in their people

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      Some comments on the comments on the comments…

      It may very well be the case that the workers in that plant have neither a need nor a desire to unionize (or join the UAW), and if so I’m pleased to hear that they’re enjoying their jobs and that VW is treating them well.

      In all fairness, however, the mere fact that “no management representative was in earshot” during your interviews does not in-itself nullify the possibility that workers might not feel ‘free’ to speak their minds (even if they actually happened to be doing so in this case). After all, the management at VW knows full well who you and Ed are and what blog you represent, so if they want to know what the workers interviewed said, they don’t have to be in earshot. All they need to do is read your blog.

      That said, it may be likely that the people interviewed did in fact speak their minds, but your claims would have been strengthened even more if you had also interviewed a few people off the job in a less public atmosphere where their anonymity was guaranteed.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Just a couple of observations. The first guy, Adrian is wearing prescription glasses,no side shields. Kristy, however is wearing proper safety glasses,with wrap around shields. Ed or Bertel are wearing a hard hat,I think.

      Odd safety policy?

      I love the ball cap look,and both of them know how to wear them right. I wonder if VW has that set in thier dress policy? The golf shirts look good. That colour would be a nightmare to keep clean.

      Yeah…you got two good interviews. For the most part its probably a good reflection on the whole work force. If VW maintains thier policy of treating the workers with respect,and fair wages,the UAW will never gain a foothold.

      Make no mistake, VW management is very much aware,that the UAW is not going to give up.

      The UAW, similar to many other former large organizations, have to make some hard decisions. Thier going all out to sign up the transplants. Now if that fails,and for sure it will. Maybe in five years so they might have a chance, but not in todays world. The UAW will have no choice but to downsize, or fail.

      The UAW has got to stop throwing money, at the transplant drive. They need to forget about the past, and get thier fiscal house in order.

      Many of us former/retired auto industry folks have had to take a long hard look at things. And yes, the smart ones have made the tough and hard decisions,in order to survive.

      The UAW is no different.

  • avatar
    rbseaking1

    I worked for GM as a temp for over a year and while I’d like to get a job in the field I’m trained in I absolutely would take the GM job if a position opened up. Economy is sluggish, that’s reality. Doe’s that mean I’m pro union? Not by a long shot. I worked with a group of about 75 temps and just about every one I talked to had serious issues with the union. The union cares about traditional or first tier workers and keeping those people happy, that’s it. The union bureaucrats keep their job and the first tier keep the vast majority of their pay and benefits if they keep voting for them.

    In my plant there were 3 distinct groups: First tier- people who were hired as permanent before the previous contract. These are also the same people that signed the contract allowing “2nd tier” worker’s to be hired while keeping their own wage. Second tier- people who’ve been made permanent since the previous contract. Temps- summer help or those covering vacations. They can keep you as a “temp” for as long as they like, as I said, I was there a year with no benefits. When the 2007 contract was signed the temps and second tier worker’s were supposed to work “non-core” jobs only but somewhere along the line that was amended(without a vote) and now they’re working “core” job’s right next to people making twice their pay. Also, the temps were supposed to be made permanent after 90 days…no longer. They can keep you as long as they like and again, this was done without a vote from anyone. I never talked to a first tier worker who voted for the contract allowing GM to hire new union “brothers and sisters” at half their wage. Imagine that. I did get a lot of lip service though.

    First tier people make roughly 28.50 per hour, Second tier make roughly 15-17 per hour, and temps make roughly the same thing as second tier but with no benefits at all.

    I worked on a team with a young guy who’d been with the company for roughly 4 year’s and he was making 28.50 an hour. I did the same exact jobs as he did and I was making 16 an hour all because his hire date was prior to 2007 contract signing. Another person on my team had been with the company/union for 30 yrs and she was making roughly 28.50 an hour for doing a job a baboon could do. I’m not even going to address benefits.

    Do I think the first tier are overpaid? Absolutely. Are the pay discrepancies driving a wedge between the workers? They sure are.

    • 0 avatar
      damikco

      you just sound bitter…. and you failed to mention that a 2nd tier can get traditional pay wages once they get enough seniority. only 25% of a plants workforce can be 2nd tier. as far as temps being hired it all depends on the economy.

  • avatar
    damikco

    I work in a unionizes plant and have worked for an non union company. To the non union company you are disposable at the drop of a dime.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      And they can pay you whatever they want if you aren’t wise enough to quietly poke around and find out what other folks are getting paid. Officially the company will fire you if they find out that you are comparing notes with anyone too but all it takes is getting friendly and chatty with someone away from work. My previous employer would pay one guy $35K and the other $45K for the same work and the same seniority if they could get away with it. And they’d kiss you behind with all sorts of empty promises if they thought you would believe them and so I did the same right back until the day I found something better. LOL!

      I’m convinced that this is part of why some women and meek/mild mannered men make less than aggressive types. They leave too much on the table by accepting whatever they are told with a smile.

  • avatar
    damikco

    I seriously doubt they let you take pictures in an auto factory there is something wrong with this story.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Ironic that the health and safety laws which were gotten by union support of politicians are the very things which make union representation unneeded now. They did not realize that THEY were formerly the dispenser of benefits, but now the GOVERNMENT is.
    And if the employer treats the employees right and employees want no union, that sounds like a win-win to me. Unionized workers work for and have alliegence to their UNION, not their employers. That cannot be good for the customers of any company. No man can serve two masters. (From the Bible.)

    • 0 avatar
      damikco

      “Scarey” Unfortunately the Government dose not check every plant for health and safety or ergonomics of a particular job. The Union has always been there for me and other workers as well. The OSHA visits come only a few times a year and cant keep up with the fast adaption of many auto plants. Also be honest with yourself most of today’s workers are not paid well at all with the expatiation of the auto industry (because of the UAW) we have watched the average American non-union workers wage fall dramatically and the hardest hit states are the “Right to work” states.

    • 0 avatar
      silverkris

      Let’s see, now that health and safety laws are on the books today so today we don’t need unions? That assumes that corporations and some politicians don’t lobby the government to water down or do away with workplace, health and safety laws, never mind environmental laws.

  • avatar
    hifi

    I find it interesting that when we see pictures of VW workers, they are presentable and dressed in attractive VW clothing with their name stitched in. When you see UAW workers, they are hungover from lunch and are all dressed in whatever Nascar or Marlboro t-shirt they found on the floor that morning. If this is any indication of how the UAW provides value to their workers and to the customers of their products, no thank you.

  • avatar
    jmatt

    The UAW is not welcome in the north either. But whaddya gonna do?

    Union prospects need only look at the UAW’s destruction of GM and Chrysler, their destruction on the City of Detroit and the havoc they’ve wreaked on Michigan in general to know they want nothing to do with the UAW.

    Bob King talks about the end of the union/ I have news for him, if it wasn’t for the Wagner laws the UAW would have been tossed into the dustbin of history in 1970 and GM, Detroit and Michaigan would have been the better for it.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    A simple interview with two happy employees is definitely union bashing.

    I’ve worked union & non-union. Both have their disadvantages. Non-union is much more political in the workplace. A do-as-youre-told philosophy applies. Some people land jobs that they are not qualified to perform because they happen to be a friend of the boss. There is nothing to protect you from management unless it’s covered by some obscure labor law. Union jobs stress seniority over qualifications. They call it a brotherhood, but in many cases if your job is threatened you can “bump” someone from their position and take their job (strictly due to seniority and a semi-ability to perform the task). The trade union I worked with was essentially a good ol’ boys club. Children, friends & relatives of union members received preferential treatment. Outsiders need not apply.

  • avatar
    fordguy

    I have purchased nothing but American nameplates from the “Big Three” my entire life, all of which were assembled in either Ohio, Virginia, or Michigan. I’ve done my part to support these companies and the UAW, but after the 2012 election, I’m done. My future vehicle purchases will be American-assembled vehicles from non-UAW plants, which unfortunately means foreign nameplates. I planned to buy the 2013 Fusion, but only after production started up in Michigan. Not any more. Thanks for screwing up a good thing, UAW. Good riddance – hope you get what you deserve.


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