Tennessee Governor to Volkswagen Employees: Please, Do Not Unionize

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Volkswagen’s singular U.S. plant has toyed with the idea of unionizing for the past five years. Chattanooga Operations, in Tennessee, initially seemed fine with the establishment of a German-style works council. However, while the United Auto Workers’ first attempt to seal the deal with votes failed in 2014, the union has since managed to rally more staff under its banner.

The UAW is now calling for another vote (its fifth), claiming a majority of the facility’s hourly workers are on its side. Meanwhile, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee spent the first part of this week pleading with plant staff not to unionize.

Lee’s not the first Tennessee governor to stand in opposition to the UAW. His predecessor, former Gov. Bill Haslam, also opposed unionizing and threatened to nix millions in state and local incentives if the facility hopped into bed with organized labor. However, while Lee’s aims are the same, his strategy is not. Rather than threaten employees, he’s asking them to see things his way.

With the factory briefly idled on Monday to allow the governor to receive its staff’s undivided attention, Lee chose his wording carefully. The governor devoted the majority of his chat (shared in its entirety by Labor Notes) to asking staff to consider the state’s future and ensure more manufacturing jobs and skilled-labor positions are available for their neighbors and children.

“There are new companies that all of us would benefit from if they came here, because they would bring more high-paying jobs that would elevate the economic activity of our state for everyone. There are a few things that are really important for those companies that are thinking about coming here,” he said. “What are you doing for workforce development in your state that makes it an attractive place for us to bring our company? I will tell you, we are going to do something in this state to make sure that we have skilled tradespeople … to fill the next 3,800 jobs that Volkswagen may ultimately bring to this place if we continue to create the environment in Tennessee that is helpful to them or to any number of other companies that we’re already talking to.”

Volkswagen has already informed Chattanooga that it believes the facility can achieve more through an open dialog than unionization, but would respect the outcome of the vote. Lee’s speech said much the same.

“I know you all have an important vote that is coming up; that there is differences of opinion about that,” he said, noting that he didn’t run any attack ads during his campaign for governor and also refused to be divisive or confrontational about the union issue.

“I do believe, based on my personal experience of working with hundreds of skilled trades people over 35 years of working, that every workplace has challenges,” Lee continued. “There are things in your workplace that you wish were different. I also believe … that when I have a direct relationship with you, the worker, and you’re working for me, that is when the environment works the best.”

Lee’s address received quite a bit of applause in certain moments, but booing can be heard in parts of the recording. Hearing evidence of a split crowd, the governor said he respected their position and was compelled to share his in order to promote an “open dialog.”

“We had open dialogue back by letting the governor know that we think he is full of it,” Billy Quigg, a seven-year veteran at the plant, told Labor Notes. “Don’t preach open dialogue and then get upset when we make it clear that we disagree with what the governor is saying.”

The UAW originally hoped to see a vote take place at the end of April, but there’s no official date set. Automotive News reports no change in the vote’s status, but shared a written statement from Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the UAW in Detroit, about the speech.

“Governor Lee has embraced UAW GM workers in Spring Hill Tennessee. All Chattanooga workers want is the same rights as Spring Hill workers and every other VW worker in the world. Why should Chattanooga workers be treated differently and why wouldn’t the Governor or anyone else want Chattanooga workers to have the same rights as GM Spring Hill workers?” Rothenberg postulated.

[Image: Volkswagen]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Whatnext Whatnext on May 02, 2019

    Do autoworkers in the US South enjoy being paid less and having crappier benefits than their counterparts in the developed world? Or is the only alternative in Dixie working at WalMart?

    • See 2 previous
    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on May 03, 2019

      @Get Necked Ya Dumb Nigger! Newsy TV, Channel 283 on Dishnetwork or newsy.com has become my news source. Reminds me of the early Headline News network where they featured just the news, and nothing but the news.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on May 04, 2019

    The governor should buzz off. This is between the company and the employees.

  • Ronin The very asking of the question "Are Plug-In Hybrids the Future?" is an interesting one. Because just 2 or 3 years ago we'd be asking- no, asserting- that E cars are the future. We're no longer asking that question.
  • Peter Benn There apparently were some K-code 4-dr sedan Fairlanes. Collectible Automobile Apr 2024 has found a '63 500 with HD 3/spd.
  • Mia Hey there!I recently stumbled upon the Crack Eraser DIY Windshield Repair Kit (check it out here: https://crackeraser.com/collections/diy-windshield-repair-kits) and decided to give it a shot on a small chip in my windshield. I have to say, it worked like a charm! Super easy to use, and it saved me a trip to the professionals. If you're dealing with a similar issue, this kit is definitely worth considering. 😊
  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.
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