Last week, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee “ramped up his anti-union rhetoric” in hopes of persuading workers at Volkswagen AG’s plant in Chattanooga to vote against representation by the United Auto Workers. According to Reuters, on February 12th, Corker said he had been “assured” that if workers at the Volkswagen plant in his hometown rejected representation by UAW, the company would “reward the plant with a new product to build.” Bernie Woodall of Reuters said that Corker dropped that “bombshell” on the “first of a three-day secret ballot election of blue-collar workers” at the Chattanooga plant. The most troubling part—as I see it—is that Corker’s claim actually ran “counter to public statements by Volkswagen…”
The following day, Corker said that he was “very certain that if the UAW is voted down,” the automaker would announce new investment in the plant “in the next couple weeks.” It seems Corker hadn’t heard—or chose to ignore—a statement made earlier by Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW Chattanooga, “that there was ‘no connection’ between the vote at its three-year-old Tennessee plant and a looming decision on whether VW will build a new crossover vehicle there or in Mexico.”
Volkswagen officials acknowledged “their desire for a works council, arguing that their model of labor-management relations serves them well in every other country in the world, except China.” Under U.S. law, however, the company would not be able to “set up a works council without first having its employees vote for a union.”
The UAW “was dealt a stinging defeat” when a majority of employees at the Chattanooga facility voted against joining the union “after a high-profile opposition campaign led by Republican politicians and outside political groups.” According to the Washington Post, the auto union’s loss “came in spite of an unprecedented level of support from the company being organized.” Fischer who had actually “encouraged the idea of starting a German-style ‘works council’ at the plant, like those in place at Volkswagen’s other factories'” apparently was “saddened by the outcome.”
Fisher speaking after the union vote (Washington Post):
“Our employees have not made a decision that they are against a works council. Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant,” Fischer said, reading from a statement. “Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America’s production needs and serve our employees’ interests.”
Gary Casteel, organizer for the UAW’s Southern Region, said, “Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee.”
Casteel was making reference to anti-union remarks made by “Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers, who threatened to withhold tax incentives from Volkswagen if the workers unionized, and attention from D.C.-based activist Grover Norquist.” UAW officials said they noticed that workers began “to turn against the union as they started hearing ‘threats and intimidation’ against the company.”
It appears that the Chattanooga auto workers may have made a big mistake when they rejected UAW membership last week. According to Huffington Post, theirs is the only “Volkswagen plant worldwide without a formal mechanism for workers’ representation.”
The German “co-determination” model mandates works councils, which connect employees to management, at all large German companies. Following the union vote, the head of Volkswagen’s works council told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the automaker would hesitate to expand in the U.S. South.
“I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the South again,” said works council leader Bernd Osterloh.
“If co-determination isn’t guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor” of building another plant in the right-to-work South, Osterloh added.
UAW chief says Bob Corker intimidated workers at Chattanooga Volkswagen plant
Now, thanks to Senator Bob Corker and others who spoke out against UAW representation for workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant it looks like the company probably won’t be rewarding the facility with any “new product” manufacturing there…or anywhere else in the “right-to-work South.”
Auto union loses historic election at Volkswagen plant in Tennessee (Washington Post)