United Auto Workers Find Death in Tennessee

John Ransom
|
Posted: Feb 17, 2014 12:01 AM
United Auto Workers Find Death in Tennessee

In a close vote, yet one that was widely expected to be favorable to the union, workers at the Tennessee Volkswagen plant rejected an offer by the United Auto Workers to unionize the Volkswagen operations in the state by a 712-626 vote against union.

“Last week's vote at the plant - which was 53 percent to 47 percent against the UAW,” writes Reuters, “dealt a body blow to the union, which has been unable to expand into auto plants in the U.S. South, even as its ranks have declined elsewhere.”

The election is seen as a major rebuff in the UAW’s attempt to expand representation into foreign autoworkers in the United States, which are headquartered in mostly southern states with favorable right-to-work laws.

The vote, while only a first test of union appeal in the south, increases the uncertainty regarding the long-term survival of the United Auto Workers union. It's the worst union defeat in Tennessee since Grant got whipped on the first day at the Battle of Shiloh. Of course, Grant ultimately won that battle the next day.

The UAW has seen its numbers of workers shrink over the last two decades as domestic manufacturers GM, Ford and Chrysler wrestled with high labor and benefit costs compared to foreign manufacturers operating in the U.S.

In fact, GM’s late financial problems were, in part, caused by pension and health plan liabilities to UAW workers, necessitating a federal government bailout. In the $95 billion GM bankruptcy, $50 billion of it was benefit liabilities to UAW workers.

The head of the union, Bob King, has admitted that declining union membership rolls means that if the UAW doesn't "organize these transnationals [foreign auto manufacturers], I don't think there's a long-term future for the UAW — I really don't."

That’s correct.

Because unless the UAW can figure out how to increase labor costs across the entire industry, foreign manufacturers will continue to beat American manufacturers in the number one cost for cars: labor. Labor costs, including benefits, put current per-hour employee cost for U.S. automakers [at] around 50 percent higher than the costs for their foreign counterparts,” according to NPR.
As I reported in March of 2011, the UAW’s honcho, King, gave foreign automakers including BMW, Volkswagen AG, Toyota and Nissan an offer they can't refuse: Unionize their workers or else he'll single out one automaker and put the screws to them with a boycott. Never mind that the boycott will hurt workers, consumers and the US economy.

Last year, sources close to one foreign car manufacturer told me that they thought the target would be Toyota. But that was before a tsunami set back Japanese auto manufacturing. German automakers were likely a better bet because German unions were willing to back the UAW.

“This will be the biggest campaign ever undertaken. It will involve hundreds of dealerships,” said Dennis Williams, UAW Secretary Treasurer, adding the union will ask for help from its retirees, community groups and other unions to help with the campaign, said the Royal Oak Tribune (MI).

“We will do whatever it takes,” said Williams.

Volkswagen employees about 2,000 people at its manufacturing plant in Tennessee, while Daimler employs 17,697 in the US, down from 22,476 in 2008.

“UAW spent more than two years organizing and then called a snap election in an agreement with VW. German union IG Metall worked with the UAW to pressure VW to open its doors to organizers,” says Reuters, “but anti-union forces dropped a bombshell after the first of three days of voting. Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga who helped win the VW plant, said on Wednesday after the first day of voting that VW would expand the factory if the union was rejected.”

Still, the battle is far from over with the UAW also working on organizing Nissan in Mississippi.

As more and more localities declare their independence from budget-destroying unions, the United Auto Workers is reaching into its bag of liberal magic tricks to help breakup non-union plants in the Deep South.

Not surprisingly, given the desperate times for unions, the UAW is relying on an appeal to racism in the south- one of the only tricks left in the liberal bag- in order to exploit African-American workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, MS.

“After months of speculation about where the United Auto Workers was going to focus its do-or-die Southern campaign to organize workers,” writes Facing South, “the giant 3,000-worker Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., has emerged as Battleground No. 1.”

Facing South, a liberal newsletter, produced by the progressive stink tank, The Institute for Southern Studies, says that the UAW is focusing on Nissan’s Canton plant because they estimate that the plant’s racial makeup is 80 percent African-American, thus more easily exploitable.

And racism may be their last hope.

The UAW had promised a worldwide boycott campaign of automakers who rebuffed the union’s attempt to muscle U.S. workers.

However, the support of union workers in other countries, once considered a key to success of a boycott, has failed to materialize, probably because world economic conditions have foreign workers more worried about their jobs than even Americans.

"Of course, we will support the UAW; we've said that all along," said Bernd Osterloh, a German union chief told the Chicago Tribune. "But there's one thing we cannot do. We can't take workers at VW Chattanooga by the hand when it comes to voting (on UAW representation). One has to be in favor if one wants union representation."

And with that sterling stab in the back, the boycott strategy collapsed with a chorus of loudly ringing “no comments” from the UAW’s King.

And by that I mean Bob King, UAW president, not Obama.

But thank God the UAW still has racism.

Because without that, they are all out of magic tricks.