By on January 30, 2014


On Tuesday, the New York Times published a look at the ongoing feud between pro- and anti-union forces at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It paints a picture of a political battle fought mainly by outside forces, utilizing the deep pockets of some of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups.

Steven Greenhouse’s story “Outsiders, Not Auto Plant, Battle U.A.W. in Tennessee” is mainly focused on the lobbying efforts of anti-union groups, including the freshly minted Center for Worker Freedom. The CWF is a subsidiary of Americans for Tax Reform, the well-known anti-tax group led by conservative titan Grover Norquist. Conservative commentator Matt Patterson heads the CWF, and has made it clear that he wants the UAW out of Chattanooga, telling the NYT

 “Unions are a big driver of government. Unions are very political, the U.A.W. is one of the most political. If they help elect politicians who pass huge government programs, that requires taxes.”

Mr. Patterson has serious resources to call upon in his crusade. In a piece for conservative blog The Daily Caller, Mr. Patterson lambasted the UAW as a “left-wing ATM machine.” He also criticized the recent rejection by the NLRB of a worker complaint alleging misleading solicitation by the UAW at Chattanooga, labeling it as politically motivated. Mr. Patterson’s CWF is just one of a number of conservative lobbying groups making their presence known in the region. Previous efforts by the UAW to organize the transplant auto factories have widely been dismissed as moribund. However, the level of spending and lobbying action of anti-union groups suggests otherwise, at least in this case.

Greenhouse’s full piece is well worth a read, if only because it shows how high the stakes at Chattanooga have become (or at least are perceived to be). It also demonstrates, perhaps unintentionally, how “pro-union“ and “anti-union“ have been constructed as all-or-nothing categories in post-bailout America. That new politics of exclusion has turned what would originally have been a fairly small-scale regional controversy into a national issue.

The fear of (or hope for) a domino effect of widespread unionization of the Southern auto industry is palpable amongst groups with a national reach.  Even so, the level of concern may be overblown. Every plant is unique, and with manufacturing subdivided between an ever-larger number of OEMs and locations, the chance of unionization automatically spreading is slim. VW’s well-publicized sales difficulties in North America coupled with major layoffs last year have undoubtedly contributed to an exceptional climate at the plant, one unlike the other transplant factories. The future still holds many uncertainties for the friends and foes of organized labor.

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12 Comments on “NYT: Chattanooga is a Lobbyist Battleground...”

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Domino effect indeed, this will become a proxy war between opposite ends of the political spectrum.

    It could even be that foreign interests decide to jump into the fray, most notably IG Metall, the powerful German union.

    At this point of time, I don’t think anyone can accurately predict what the final outcome will be.
    Regardless, I feel it will be a turning point in unionization, just like the “battle of the overpass” was.

  • avatar

    Having never had a union job, but lived with someone who was a member, I can’t help but wonder at what point does the main benefit a member need form his union become “Don’t eff up this good thing we have here”?

  • avatar

    The UAW is trying to expand its membership in order to avoid financial ruin.

    The “right to work” conservatives want to completely destroy the unions.

    Really not a whole lot of middle ground there, now is there?

    • 0 avatar

      Not really. Despite the best efforts of men like FDR, government unions are thriving and exacting mightily from public coffers.

      In IL, probably the most corrupt state in the union, the now imprisoned governor passed a law (now enforced by the current gov who got $5 million in union funds for his campaigns) essentially forcing the unionization of home health care workers, whose dues are recycled back into their party.

      The case is before the US Supremes:

      ” The ABC7 I-Team has learned of a legal fight pitting Governor Pat Quinn against families with loved ones who have disabilities.

      The issue is whether those families be considered public employees. This is about a government-funded program that subsidizes families who care for disabled relatives at home instead of having them institutionalized.

      Five years ago Gov. Quinn designated those home providers– including family members– as public employees, allowing a union to organize them, a union that backs the governor. It’s now headed to the supreme court. ….
      … In January 2009, Governor Quinn signed an executive stating these home care givers– even moms and dads– are public employees available to be unionized by Illinois’ Service Employees International. Those who didn’t want to join the union would still have to pay for representation. “What we are talking about is unionizing family members, parents in a home. For me, that is inconsistent and intrusive and will interfere with Josh’s care,” said Pam Harris.

      She and other disability program members voted the union down and sued Quinn in a class-action lawsuit that will be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. If the court rules Quinn was wrong in declaring home-care providers public employees, unions could lose several hundred thousand members across the country. …”

      • 0 avatar

        The UAW is in financial trouble, while its prospects are bleak.

        You’ve already won. You should be thrilled.

      • 0 avatar

        George Will cited in his January 17 column in the Washington Post that “organized labor’s presence in the private sector has shriveled from about 35 percent of the workforce in the 1950s to 6.6 percent today”. The only growing sector for unions is public employees.

  • avatar

    “Mr. Patterson has serious resources to call upon in his crusade. In a piece for conservative blog The Daily Caller, Mr. Patterson lambasted the UAW as a “left-wing ATM machine.”

    These guys don’t get it. It’s not about Democrats using unions as an ATM machine (which they do). It’s about SPECIAL INTERESTS being ATM machines for BOTH parties.

    But something tells me Mr. Patterson is less concerned with the whole idea of our government being bought by special interests than making sure it’s bought by the special interests HE favors.

    And, thus, the problem.

  • avatar

    The domino effect that would be felt on the local level if VW workers unionize is the midsize, three row crossover being sent to Mexico, not Chattanooga, for assembly.

    • 0 avatar

      The push for unionization is coming from VW management in Germany.

      The crossover has already been assigned to Chattanooga.

      Some of VW’s most difficult union relationships are with its workforce in Mexico.

  • avatar

    In short: Conservatives know that in the first world only the US is anti-union on any palpable level. Germany is the most-unionized but the rest of the first world is at various levels of unionization and isn’t fought nearly as hard in a public way. Privately, for sure, no corporation wants to concede any part of their profit to workers or ‘less for me and more for you’ is bad in their world. As a labor scholar though I hate to break the bad news: Heavy and Light Industry labor unions will never rebound to the levels of the prior times. Service unions though will come to dominate the US by the end of this century barring some dramatic change in demographics.

    So, while I enjoy reading TTAC most of your views on unionism are minority views held by a demographic of Americans that are inclined to vote for a rural minority party that is faltering.

    • 0 avatar
      Andy D

      yah , the revelation, that most of the guys I hang with on the forums are neo-cons ,gun toting neo-cons, kinda flummoxes me. But you know what is most confusing about neo-cons is not their beliefs, but the economic disparity between them and their champions.

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