UAW, VW Works Council Regrouping Under Voting Fallout

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon
uaw vw works council regrouping under voting fallout

Following the 712 – 629 decision against representation by the United Auto Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., the union may be forced to throw in the towel on foreign-owned auto factories as the automaker’s works council vow to press forward with plans to establish their brand of representation in the plant.

Bloomberg and Reuters report that though the UAW may have been thwarted in their recent organizing efforts at the plant by third-party organizations and local and state politicians opposed to the union, Volkswagen’s works council remains undeterred, according to council secretary general Gunnar Kilian in a statement:

We have always stressed that the decision over union representation lies in the hands of the workers in Chattanooga. The result of the election has not changed our goal of creating a works council in Chattanooga.

Kilian and VW Global Works Council Secretary General Frank Patta are expected to travel to the United States in the next two weeks to meet and consult with labor law experts to determine the next steps needed to bring a works council to the U.S. plant.

Meanwhile, the UAW remains optimistic in the face of the Chattanooga vote for the time being, with support from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

The closeness of the results and the courage and tenacity of union supporters prove that this election is a minor setback, and not a permanent defeat. The ferocity of the anti-union forces only reinforces the fact that there is a powerful new form of organizing emerging.

The union faced opposition by anti-union groups, including one with ties to anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, and Tennessee Republican political leaders such as Governor Bill Haslam and former Chattanooga mayor and current U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

In the long-term, and with membership hovering around 400,000 after falling 75 percent from a peak of 1.5 million in 1979, the UAW may be forced to extend its hand to workers outside of the automotive industry, such as motel maids and university assistants, while walking away from the effort to represent transplant factory workers.

Clark University labor law professor Gary Chaison noted that representation at the VW plant would have bolstered efforts to unionize other Southern plants, such as Daimler AG’s MBUSI plant in Vance, Ala. However, the roadmap may need to be redrawn:

This is a time for soul-searching at the UAW and within the American labor movement. This was the ideal situation and they know that. They might just give up on transplants.

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5 of 128 comments
  • Carl Kolchak Carl Kolchak on Feb 17, 2014

    I do not see this as a repudiation of the Works Council Idea, but rather a loud NO ! to the UAW. This is what I see. 1. Cultural/Political- The UAW is joined at the hip to the Democratic party, not exactly a stalwart of traditional values- TN is the Bible Belt, not the Rust Belt 2. Reputation- The UAW bought itself a lot of trouble when it agreed to 2 tier pay scales. it is not just them, (used to belong to the UFCW, they had them). the UAW is not exactly tied with Boy Scouts for popularity 3. Detroit- I cannot say what part (if any) the UAW had to do with Detroit's downfall, but I can the reluctance to involve themselves with any association to Detroit This would be a good time for a "single issue" bill to go through Congress, amending the Wagner Act to allow a Union just for this type of situation, but I am not holding my breath. This would also be a perfect situation for a small, bi- partisan union to come in, but I think the UAW would scare most comers off.

    • U mad scientist U mad scientist on Feb 17, 2014

      > This would also be a perfect situation for a small, bi- partisan union to come in Srsly?

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Feb 17, 2014

    I'll ask again: What problem would UAW representation solve for the Chattanooga workers? I’m not aware of any.

    • See 1 previous
    • Xeranar Xeranar on Feb 17, 2014

      I'll answer that: It will give the workers a true independent voice and decision making process. Transplants pay on average better than the area around them (and before people get into this 'But but...THEY NEED LESS!' argument lets ignore the locale and realize that most goods are not regionally based and thus while rent is lower it is not an argument for lower pay overall) and while they may not fight over wages today the more integrated discussion that an independent union can have if VW wants a worker's council can only be legally enshrined through an independent union. The ultimate issue while VW has a legally enshrined worker's council system the US has no such rule. Thus they need the independent union to work with them to establish this. EDIT: agenthex beat me to it, but ultimately the whole point is while VW may want to continue to work with the workers for now that may inevitably change. If you want to ask why anybody needs a union, well higher wages, better working conditions, and frankly a better standard of living. Union workers make substantially more than their non-unionized compatriots and don't have nearly the problems that non-union shops have. Globalization and free trade are pointless arguments to make against them because ultimately they're not a required feature of society. We can change how we operate as a country if we so wish and while I doubt we'll be breaking the back of 'free trade' in the next decade but in the next few decades that approach is going to look less and less attractive.

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