The union bosses in Detroit wanted to swindle 1,550 workers at the Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee into joining the United Auto Workers union (UAW). It would have been the first union victory against the workers of the “transplant” companies such as Volkswagen, Toyota, Mercedes Benz, and other auto companies that have brought thousands of jobs to Right to Work states in America.
The VW workers voted 712 to 626 against creating a union that would then take their money in dues and claim to speak for all of them. The union lost.
The UAW thought they were going to win, to achieve a beachhead in the Southern states that traditionally shun unions and their left wing politics. They failed.
The UAW had advantages in this fight that it will not enjoy in subsequent efforts. First, their outgoing president Bob King will retire this summer. Capturing the dues-rich factory in Chattanooga would have been the crowning achievement of King’s career. Everyone at the UAW knew this was job one. Now his retirement party will have all the cheerfulness of a funeral home viewing.
Second, Volkswagen is a German company and it has union leaders on its board of directors. They pressured the company to side with the union and not its own workers. VW management would let its managers tell workers of the dangers and costs of a union. They would not let anyone speak to their workers at the plan who opposed a vote for unionization. But they opened their doors, set up an office and allowed black shirted (yes, no joke) UAW organizers to patrol up and down the factory line and take workers into a closed room to “discuss” why they should vote to impose a union.
Third, the UAW had been working for years to capture Chattanooga. It is estimated the UAW spent upwards of $5 million to win this fight. Had they won they would have taken dues equal to two hours pay for hourly workers, or 1.15% of monthly salary for salaried workers each year from each worker. They were, over time, going to profit from their “investment.”
For months the union had claimed that a majority of the eligible workers at the plant had signed cards declaring they wanted UAW representation. Then some workers claimed they had been tricked or coerced into signing such cards, and were represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in a complaint to labor authorities. No shock, the complaints were dismissed by Obama’s NLRB under the flimsiest of pretexts.
This fight reminds us why the top goal of the unions in financing the election of Barack Obama to the presidency was passage of “card check” legislation that would give unions the right to force everyone into a union agreement as soon as 51 percent of workers signed cards expressing support for a union. As we saw in Chattanooga people can be tricked into signing such a card. Signatures can be forged. Obama and Harry Reid certainly had a majority of the House of Representatives ready to vote for “card check” but they needed 60 votes to defeat a promised filibuster in the Senate. They did not move during the brief period until the window closed when Ted Kennedy’s seat was won by Republican Scott Brown. They failed to win “card check.” That was a very close call for worker’s rights in America. The Chattanooga loss reminds the unions to redouble their efforts to change the law so as to avoid pesky elections in the future.
Why did the union lose? It was an informed rejection by the workers themselves. The pay and benefits and pensions paid by VW were good, comparable and in some instances better than starting pay at unionized GM facilities, in fact. What would the union add to that? Why pay dues which would reduce the take home pay of workers? Would the company expand jobs in Chattanooga if there was a union demanding productivity-killing work rules and setting up an “us vs. them” attitude that so damaged Detroit?
The union and its leftwing allies have flailed around and tried to explain their loss by blaming “outsiders” and “racism” but even the Washington Post reported on Sunday, February 16 that “The real ground game. . .came by way of a dedicated core of anti-union workers who hand out fliers, voiced their opposition through a Web site and social media, and held a big meeting Feb. 8 to make their case.”
The New York Times reported on February 15 that VW worker Mike Burton, described as “leader of the anti-union employees,” explained that “A lot of us came to work here because it didn’t have a union.” The New York Times wrote “one reason the UAW lost was that many VW workers said they already felt that they were paid well and treated well, leading them to question why they needed a union and to pay union dues.”
And yet Ed Schultz of MSNBC impotently and incoherently screams “outsiders” and “racism.”
One theme of the opposition to unionization at the plant was to take a look at what unionization had done to General Motors and Detroit. Detroit was once one of American’s greatest cities with 1.8 million citizens in 1950. Now there are only 700,000 left. And General Motors, once the model of American business success, had to be bailed out with our taxpayer dollars to avoid bankruptcy in the first days of the Obama administration.
The Center for Worker Freedom, a new project of Americans for Tax Reform, placed 13 billboards on roads across Chattanooga in the weeks before the election. The Billboards read: ”Detroit: Brought to you by the UAW” and “United Obama Workers: The UAW spends millions to elect liberal politicians like Barack Obama.”
The failure of Detroit and the damage unions did to a once great company, General Motors, was front and center in the minds of many voters.
The union bosses will try again at the Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama and the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi. They have to. Like locusts, like any parasite, they have to move to new and to-date healthy hosts after they have crippled and destroyed their previous hosts.
The example of Chattanooga will likely embolden management and local communities to stand up to union pressure and allow fair elections where workers can hear the facts on unions, union dues and the leftwing politics of those unions.
Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. Follow him on Twitter at @GroverNorquist.