Tennessee Governor to Volkswagen Employees: Please, Do Not Unionize

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
tennessee governor to volkswagen employees please do not unionize

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]

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5 of 22 comments
  • 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.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.