By on March 23, 2012

In a surprise attack, the UAW has taken the first formal steps to unionize Volkswagen’s U.S. factory in Chattanooga. In what Reuters calls “an escalation of its effort to establish a foothold outside the Detroit automakers,” the UAW started passing out authorization cards for workers to sign. According to U.S. labor laws, the union needs signatures from at least 30 percent of the workers of a plant before a representation election can go ahead. The UAW’s timing could not have been worse.

The UAW’s attack on Volkswagen, which has its U.S. plant at the former site of a World War II munitions factory, is an undercover operation. Its cover has been blown by Bernie Woodall, a crack automotive reporter of Reuters’ Detroit bureau. Woodall was in Chattanooga yesterday to cover the hiring of 800 new workers at the Volkswagen plant. While on the ground in Chattanooga, he learned about the surreptitious passing around of signature cards. “The UAW has not told the German automaker about its effort to collect signatures,” Woodall was told. The UAW has not even approached all hourly workers.

The matter became semi-public during a closed-door meeting between employees and VW executives at the Chattanooga plant yesterday. During the meeting, workers asked VW executives, including VWoA CEO Jonathan Browning, about the UAW’s efforts. Browning gave milquetoast party line, saying that UAW representation is up to the workers. Then, says Reuters, “one worker, addressing the crowd, said the plant did not need a union, which was met with loud applause and cheers.”

“Not too many people around here want a union,” Woodall was told by a worker who was at the meeting.

Last December, the UAW had given up immediate plans to organize the transplants, and said it would shift its efforts to direct talks with German, Japanese and Korean automakers with U.S. factories. The UAW also hoped it would get support from the German metal workers union IG Metall. These talks must not have been fruitful.

The timing of the organizing efforts is horrendous. It’s not that jobs are imperiled in Chattanooga. In January, the Chattanooga plant hired 200 new workers. Yesterday, Volkswagen announced the creation of 800 new jobs in Chattanooga. There is very little the unions can offer the workers in return for their union fee. At Volkswagen, a new hire is paid $14.50 per hour, even during training. Within three years, pay rises to $19.50 per hour. Says Reuters:

“A General Motors Co spokesman said the average pay for entry-level GM workers is $17.50 an hour. Veteran workers at GM make an average of $29 per hour.”

A Volkswagen worker receives 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.

Nobody knows how successful the UAW is in collecting signatures. From what we are hearing in Chattanooga, people are not falling over themselves to sign. If the stealth attack fails, it could be the end of the UAW. Says Reuters:

“UAW President Bob King has said organizing U.S. plants run by foreign automakers, known in the industry as transplants, is crucial for the union’s survival. After three decades of declining membership, the UAW faces a financial crunch that has been exacerbated by the U.S. economic downturn. This has forced America’s richest union to sell assets and dip into its strike fund to pay for activities.”

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27 Comments on “UAW Launches Spring Offensive In Transplant War, Attacks Former Chattanooga Munitions Factory...”

  • avatar

    IIRC, isn’t the pension or retirement health care for UAW members run by the union now? If the UAW did collapse, what happens then?

    Regardless, not organizing this plant won’t kill the UAW. It may relegate them to a state of perpetual stasis, though.

    • 0 avatar

      Private pensions are covered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, probably not the healthcare part. If GM and/or Chrysler had gone thru a conventional Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as is American Airlines right now, the PBGC would have had a seat at the table. If the UAW goes Chapter 11, same thing.

  • avatar

    Do you really have to think about that at all? If UAW collapses, Obama and his Obamabucks will step in and take care of UAW pension. UAW was ahead of EVERYONE in GM/Chrystler bankruptcy, ahead of bond holder who should’ve been there. Which means YOU will be responsible for UAW pensions. Yes, the gift that keep on giving strikes again.

  • avatar

    “The UAW also hoped it would get support from the German metal workers union IG Metall. These talks must not have been fruitful.”

    That’s the real pity. If labour could organize across borders like multinational corporations do, it could provide a useful balance.

    Of course, it could also result in labour being as rapacious as it’s counterpart is now.

  • avatar

    “After three decades of declining membership, the UAW faces a financial crunch that has been exacerbated by the U.S. economic downturn.”

    This is the money shot – literally. UAW Executives are behaving like they are part of a big company with declining sales. Without new markets and customers, they can’t afford to pay themselves the big salaries and bonuses they have become accustomed to and they can’t continue to live in the style they have become accustomed to.

  • avatar

    As I’ve posted on here many times, when the UAW was unable to get “card check” (aka eliminate secret balloting for unionization elections) passed in 09/10 when the Dems held the POTUS, House, and Senate, they became very vulnerable.

    With second tier UAW workers at the big 3 plants making less than many transplant workers, I’m sure many will ask “where’s the beef?”

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed… making less, probably paying higher state/local taxes, and paying union dues. End the UAW, and exile its leaders to the Communist paradise of Cuba where they can organize, build power, and win justice from Castro.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh, yes, because there’s absolutely no difference between countries like Germany, the Scandinavian nations, South Korea and Japan, and Communist Cuba.

        That’s like saying there’s no difference between New Hampshire and Somalia because they’re both erstwhile-libertarian.

        Nuance and implementation are important.

      • 0 avatar

        Unions and those socialist countries have one thing in common, they leech from the most productive in order to build an inefficient bureaucracy and maintain a status quo. In a perfect world both systems of thinking about be abolished, but our world is far from perfect and humanity flawed. UAW leaders are no different than other union (inc gov’t unions) or socialist leaders in their mentality. They steal through leverage and thuggery in order to maintain their own plush lifestyle and slightly enrich their status quo at the expense of industry and society as a whole. Their way of thinking cannot work in a global economy, not in the long term. Look at the US steel industry as a recent example, it collapsed in just a few years, but the signs were there for decades. Just as the United States has trillions in unfunded liabilities which simply cannot be paid, the union pensions and other goodies are simply unsustainable… look at Greece, and soon to be Spain and Italy. I say slowly dismantle these dinosaurs now before it all comes to a screeching halt.

  • avatar

    Those t shirts make it look like their underpants are on fire.

  • avatar

    What’s the value for the employee with the UAW these days? More training? More advancement opportunities? What?

    All the UAW shops I’ve been in have been tense places with an us vs them atmosphere with management ready to pack up and leave on short notice.

    I’m not saying that unions don’t have a purpose today b/c the can, but that the old style UAW game is played out. It’s time for the UAW to bring something to the employer as well as the employees.

  • avatar

    When did the UAW adopt the Tommie Smith “black power” salute?

    I never saw that one in my 42 years in the plants.

  • avatar

    King looks like such a doofus in that picture.

  • avatar

    Would you put your career in the hands of this bunch if you were a VWoA worker?

  • avatar

    The worker who yelled out “we don’t need a union” is probably just a brown-noser showing off how loyal he is to the company. In the long run having a union is always better for 95% of the employees than not having one. Of course, human nature being what it is- everyone imagines himself to be in the remaining 5%.

    • 0 avatar

      Do you mean 95% of the 1.5 million in the UAW in 1979, or 95% of the 300,000 in the UAW today?

      Hmm, 80% of the original group is gone – let’s ask them how they fared under the union.

    • 0 avatar

      In the long runs unions put their employers out of business. How does that make 95% of employees better off? You’re projecting if you think 95% of workers are the ones who need a union to allow them to keep their jobs in spite of incompetence, absenteeism, moral turpitude, and sloth. It is probable that unions wear down the people that are hard working and ethical over time, but going in the bottom feeders that want organized crime to carry them are in the minority. That’s what Card Check is all about. Without strong arm tactics, the unions can’t organize any private enterprise.

      • 0 avatar

        ….In the long runs unions put their employers out of business…

        Uh, no. The automakers certainly had labor related workmanship issues back in the day, but the continually improving manufacturing process made labor mistakes less and less likely. The real reason for the erosion of market share was due to the lack of desirability of the product. And that rests squarely on the shoulders of the greedy fat cats who put their short term gain over long term sustainability. GM would have been able to pay for the higher cost structure had they retained their market share. But the non stop grab for short term profit killed them. Look at their mismanagement of 1990s SUV profits as a classic example of corporate greed. Toyota never hesitated to sacrifice near term profit for long term returns. Once again the failed model of American greed at all costs killed the golden goose. And those same greedy 1%ers dump the blame on labor, as usual. America is headed into the dumpster, and fast.

      • 0 avatar

        Believe me when I say there were a LOT of bad product decisions in GM driven by financials that were incurred by union costs and featherbedding. Yes there were a lot of other bad product decisions too.

  • avatar

    As much as I dislike unions, It’s good to have that threat lingering over managements heads. Some companies rake in boatloads of money while treating employees like $&it. Unfortunately there’s both NAFTA and China to think about now.

  • avatar

    What’s weakened the unions is the crossing over of former union labor lawyers to the corporations. Their bank accounts mature as free-lance legal consultants or union busters. Dirty game – learn the trade on member dues then cross to the bosses pocket.

    • 0 avatar

      Nice attitude… :(

      I took a tour of a UAW plant a few years ago, and the “workers” looked like a sorry bunch. Hell, I can’t even wear open toed shoes in an office environment, but these clowns can wear shorts and short sleeved t-shirts? I was also surprised how many were overweight!

      I’m personally done with anything UAW. Best thing that can happen to any UAW plant is more robots.

  • avatar

    @AJ Really?… Did you expect a fashion show. Do you have any concept of what its like to work at 95 degrees?

    In the office where you can’t wear open toe shoes,are all the people in great shape?

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