By on May 25, 2012

The UAW can write off organizing Volkswagen’s U.S. plant in Chattanooga. The effort has been damned by German unions. Volkswagen’s works council will explain to Chattanooga workers that there is no pressure from German unions for them to join the United Auto Workers union. With Reuters taking notes, Volkswagen works council chief Bernd Osterloh offered the most lukewarm support he can afford to give as a union brother:

“Of course, we will support the UAW; we’ve said that all along. But there’s one thing we cannot do. We can’t take workers at VW Chattanooga by the hand when it comes to voting on UAW representation. One has to be in favor if one wants union representation.”

In March, the UAW had been handing out signature cards in Chattanooga as a first step to gain representation in Chattanooga. Apparently, this did not produce the expected echo. In April, the UAW backpedaled and said they did not mean it.  Yesterday, Osterloh mentioned that “sentiment in the southern U.S. isn’t exactly in favor of unions.”

Without forceful support from Germany, the union drive in Chattanooga is doomed. Said a source in Tennessee:

“The workers in  Chattanooga were angry when the UAW claimed that it had  the support of the works council in Germany and that turned out not to be true. The workers identify with Volkswagen, not with the union.”

The Volkswagen works council has picked up on that detail and might offer Chattanooga workers representation without the UAW. Said Osterloh:

“Should workers determine they don’t want a union, we would make efforts to bring about some sort of interest lobby. It’s important that this site has a voice on the global works council.”

Not gaining a foothold in the south would be a major setback for a union that is losing money and lives off its savings. The UAW had been betting on support from the German metal workers union IG Metall, and that support just isn’t there. German unions would rather gain a power base of their own in the U.S.


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20 Comments on “Volkswagen Chattanooga: German Unions Damn UAW Drive With Faint Support...”

  • avatar

    No suprise here. However putting all rhetoric aside. With all due respect Bertel. The last sentence tells it all.

  • avatar

    “sentiment in the southern U.S. isn’t exactly in favor of unions.”

    Maybe those employees in the South remembered what the unions had done for their brethren in the North, and decided they’d rather be employed without a union collectively bargaining their jobs into oblivion and their employers into the financial grave.

    The UAW is reaping what they sowed and their decades-long track record is an indelible part of automotive history in America. Who can blame the auto workers of the South for rejecting a union? Maybe they’d rather be employed and making money than stand in the welfare line waiting for a hand out.

    The UAW is looking for a way to redeem itself with a do-over. There are no do-overs in life.

    FYI, my dad was a union man but even he thought that what unions did to employers was highway robbery and counter-productive. When he went to work as a supervisor in US Civil Service, he steered clear of the unions in spite of the heavy-handed pressure from them.

  • avatar

    The “south” is a tough nut to crack when it comes to unions, for whatever reason anti-unionism is deeply ingrained in the culture. So much so, people are willing to work under obvious workplace abuses (my favorite example is a flag company that forces its employees to work during an unpaid break).

    @ highdesertcat – the UAW must have been really bad in the fifties, my dad as a young man in the south made extra money essentially as a paid thug busting up (literally) union organizers.

    • 0 avatar

      raph, at one time there was much worker-abuse by employers. No one is denying that. There was a place for unions when employers were willfully abusing their employees.

      But with this absolute power that unions came to wield over their employers came absolute corruption. There is no doubt that unions in their heyday enjoyed the best of everything and made life better for their members, at the expense of their employers and their customers. Does anyone remember the $5K padding on MSRP to pay for the wages and benefits of the UAW?

      In today’s world with the EEOC, OSHA, and stifling legislation drowning employers in a morass of paperwork and mandates, what does any union offer its potential members? Nothing! The government has you covered.

      No need for a union to intercede on your behalf. You have a direct line to the government if you have a gripe. See what happens when you register a complaint with OSHA or the EEOC against your employer.

      As can be seen from the past three or four decades, the UAW in particular managed to collectively bargain many of their members out of their jobs, and drive GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, by only enriching themselves with a lavish lifestyle and resort properties enjoyed by the few, well placed officials.

      Where the UAW may have been seen as the great savior and champion of the auto worker at some time in the past, it would seem that many Southerners now view the UAW as the goth behemoth that threatens their jobs and livelihood, if ever getting a foothold in the door. The UAW has proven that the abuse is now on the other foot — employer-abuse instead of worker-abuse.

      So let’s not forget what GM and the UAW did to Toyota with the NUMMI plant in California. That was definitely not kosher. I think the Southerners are smart in rejecting the UAW but they may find a German union more to their liking.

      • 0 avatar

        @highdesertcat…Okay i’ll bite. What could the German union offer that the UAW can’t, or won’t?

      • 0 avatar

        Mikey, krhodes1 expresses my sentiment exactly, and I quote, “The difference is that the German union is an integral part of the management of VW, not at war with them.” That is a profound statement and so true.

        A good example is the UAW stake in Fiatsler’s Chrysler subdivision. I don’t see the UAW striking themselves as readily as they would strike Ford. Might be the way to go.

        In the case of GM, it is government-owned and operating on tax payer money, so there is nothing of substance there. You know as well as I do that strikes are what it is all about.

        That’s how the UAW extracts concessions, by crippling their employers and limiting the profits they make for the shareholders. To counter that employers need to make ESOPs the plan of the century to make profits.

        But the foreigners in America, now there is fertile ground. There are opportunities for organizing labor and skimming the cream right off the top.

        But because of the UAW track record in the North, why would Southerners even want to organize under the UAW? They may not like ANY union in the end, but it appears to me they like the UAW the least.

        I say more power to the Southern workers. At least they won’t get fleeced by the UAW like the Northerners did.

      • 0 avatar

        @highdesertcat….I agree with some of what you say. Lets be clear. GM: The US treasury owns 32 percent? in the form of GM stock, right. The UAW VEBA plan also owns a fair amount of shares. The the governments of Ontario and Canada are sitting on nine percent? The rest belongs to the share holders of the “new” GM.

        Chrysler, was “given” to Fiat.

        Ford: To thier credit, has managed to go it alone.

        The common ground? All three are represented by the UAW, and the CAW.

        The workers at the tranplants enjoy a great benifit, and wage package. I don’t blame them a bit for rejecting the UAW. They are certainly going to send the Germans packing at the first opportunity. After all, “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free”

      • 0 avatar

        mikey, the GM fan club does not have to worry about the survivability of GM. In spite of all the woes that face GM, mostly abroad in Germany, France, South Korea and China, the US government will not abandon GM. It doesn’t matter who’s in power, the US government is not going to abandon GM.

        Allow me to clarify. The US government has GM’s back, and front and everything in between. If GM needs a bailout in the future, the US Treasury will oblige long after every country holding a chunk of GM will have gone bankrupt supporting it. The US government will bail out GM’s operations even if they are overseas!

        GM will never fail, just like bankrupt airlines will never fail, just like Fannie and Freddie will never fail, just like the Postal Service will never fail.

        And for those GM employees worried about losing their rich pensions and benefits? Not to worry! The US government will nationalize all those obligations and the PBGA will pay them each and every month into perpetuity.

        There is no need for GM ever to make a profit or break even. GM cannot and will not fail with the US government and the taxpayers always there to throw more money at them. Please read up on what Steve Rattner has said for the public record, re GM and its future. Things look up for GM and their UAW partners. It’s similar to civil service. No can fail!

        GM’s shares are in the tank because no one wants to own them except those bailed-out financial institutions coerced by the Obama administration to sink money into this industrial bail out wonder.

        Chrysler was a different story. For awhile there the US government was pimping Chrysler’s carcass to anyone, but even the Chinese and India car makers were smart enough to avoid taking Chrysler under their wing. I had hopes for Iran or France, and maybe even a little for Russian or Chech car makers, but I was wrong.

        So along comes Fiat and Sergio Marchionne and Sergio sees an opportunity to prop up failing Fiat with some US bail out money. It took $1.3B to bribe Fiat to take Chrysler, and I believe you’re right, that was a cheap price to pay to get that albatross off our necks.

        After Sergio marginalized the UAW and their board members, I believe the UAW got the message loud and clear. They couldn’t bully Sergio and the Fiat board into submission and if the UAW wanted to continue life as they know it at Fiatsler, they’d better get their act together.

        Sergio had his money to save Fiat. He cared about Chrysler as much as Daimler did, which is to say if it made money, great. If not, auf wiedersehn.

        For the UAW to strike Chrysler would be the ultimate in stupidity because Sergio would just leave them swinging in the breeze in their BVDs and take their stampings, molds, casts and assembly elsewhere, or slap an Italian name on it and have Italians build them for global sales.

        Chrysler got its act together. They’re good enough now to actually have people WANT to buy their 200, 300, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. I bought a 2012 JGC for my wife. So I’m not down on the UAW. Just truthful, from my perspective.

        I am certain that all this and more was not lost on the Southern auto workers who valued a steady income without union dues highest of all.

        Now, German unions are a little different than the UAW. But a union is still a union and I don’t know what the workers could gain from organizing with any union. They’re being treated pretty well now and they’re getting good money to boot.

        VW, Mercedes and BMW would do well to take care of their American workers, or the UAW will be ready to step in and organize them. We already know what their collective bargaining has done to the US auto industry.

  • avatar

    I guess folks are missing the point of this article. The UAW is looking for support from the German VW unions. There not getting it. Why? Because IG Metall wants it for themselves.

    Why the Germans feel they will be any better recieved than the UAW, is beyond me.

    The word “was” solidarity amongst union “brothers”. Such a thing does not,and has not, exsisted for quite some time. “Solidarity” is a thing of the past on the plant floor. There is no solidarity with the rank, and file.

    “International Solidarity”….Really? Me thinks the top brass at the UAW have been sharing a “fattie” with the boys at lunch.

    Mikey… 36+ years UAW/CAW retired

    • 0 avatar

      The difference is that the German union is an integral part of the management of VW, not at war with them. But I doubt the workers have much interest in joining IG Metall either.

      What do the VW workers in Chattanooga stand to gain from the UAW that they do not already have? A smaller paycheck after paying the dues certainly.

    • 0 avatar

      Or the German union members care more about the profitability of VW, which they own a sizable share of. Profits first, brotherhood last. Also, I am sure that in the Opel case, the UAW will not be lining up to support IG Metall’s plea for solidarity.

    • 0 avatar

      “Because IG Metall wants it for themselves.”

      I wouldn’t assume that.

      If VW’s US operations were to affiliate with the UAW, then the UAW will be competing with Metall for some of VW’s production business. Each union will be fighting to have more production in their facilities.

      You can see this playing out with Opel vs. GM Korea. Opel wants more stuff to do in Europe, but the Korean union doesn’t want to cooperate because it comes at their expense. With a limited pie to share, there ain’t much brotherly love going on there.

  • avatar

    Handing out “signature cars” would be an interesting new tactic…

  • avatar

    “The workers in Chattanooga were angry when the UAW claimed that it had the support of the works council in Germany”

    Actually, given that “sentiment in the southern U.S. isn’t exactly in favor of unions,” I don’t think workers in Tennessee give a rat’s *** about anything in Germany.

    However, I would believe that the workers would be angry if they were lied to, regardless the subject.

  • avatar

    The German Union’s are the most militant organization against GM because they aren’t a German Company. On the opposing side of their actions; US manufactures will have more reasons to build here and not in Germany.

    • 0 avatar

      “US manufactures will have more reasons to build here and not in Germany.”

      Me thinks they would have more reasons to build in Mexico for greater profit margins, away from the UAW. The domestics are already doing that, and GM may even IMPORT Holden cars from Australia in the future.

  • avatar

    It seems to me IG Metall is looking out for the rank and file—of IG Metall in Germany.

    VW can’t compete with Camrys, Hyundais, and even Malibus with German-made VWs. But, with US-made cars, they can make potentially made money. Having UAW represented workers will not make VW of A more profitable, and could cause problems. Hence IG Metall’s “non-endorsement”.

    Since IG Metall won’t get the work anyway, why not help the parent company make a profit? This will help IG Metall when it’s time to negotiated in Deutschland. And Audis will still come for Germany.

    IG Metall should be more worried that I won’t be buying any US-made VWs. Not because the workers aren’t union, or the workers are being abused–but because the cars are boring and too “Americanized”. History repeats itself sometimes…VW “Malubized” the Rabbit in the early 80s and never recoverd. Once they get their initial sales ‘boost’ coasting on the “German engineering” thing, the “Accord/Fusion/Camryziation” of Passat and Jettas will hurt VW–more than the UAW ever could.

  • avatar

    You do know the average wage of a Mexican auto worker is $4.50 an hour right? Even less at some Ford plants where the Mexican auto workers union agreed to cut starting wages to $1.50 to stop Ford from sending the fiesta builds to China where their average auto worker makes $2 to $6 dollars an hour. Add to that little to no pension and health care costs for workers. Is it good business or slave labor? How exactly does the US worker compete with a wage so low it is lower than what we pay high school kids to flip burgers? Back in the hey day of the big three – paying good union wages, pensions and health care did not stop them from making record profits. Their lack of innovation did them in when Japan showed up in the first gas crisis. Slow to react they never fully recovered. The average Japanese auto worker makes $26 dollars an hour plus retirement and benefits.

    Shipping work off to Mexico or china is not a UAW fault. If you are a bottom line man it makes sense pay a guy 1.50 an hour or 15 an hours plus health care and retirement? But then no one mentions that both China and Mexico have national health care, cheap pharmaceuticals, and a tradition of taking care of their elderly. These are companies supported and propped up by American people. The new GM/UAW contract kills the infamous job bank, encourages 10K underutilized skilled trades to retire and sets a starting wage for new hires at 17 an hour. Even with all those concessions how do you compete with 1.50 an hour?

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