Pro-union workers from Volkswagen of America’s assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., have called for an end to the interference in their election by outside special interest groups and politicians.
Workers at the big plant will vote this week in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that could prove critical to the long-term viability of the United Auto Workers Union which has long struggled to organize employees at the growing number of foreign-owned “transplant” assembly lines.
Following the announcement of the election, conservative-leaning groups like the National Right to Work Committee, and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform launched an intense campaign in Chattanooga aimed at swaying the outcome of the vote. Among other things, they have posted a billboard featuring pictures of the Detroit’s Packard Plant, which closed more than half a century ago, and blamed the union for the Motor City’s woes.
“We feel very fortunate that Volkswagen has committed to remain neutral and let workers make this decision on our own,” said Volkswagen worker Chris Brown. “But it’s really unfair that people who don’t even work at Volkswagen are trying to influence our vote.”
Since the first of the transplants – the original Honda factory in Marysville, Ohio – opened 30 years ago, only a handful have accepted the UAW to represent workers. And most of those, including a Toyota/GM joint venture in Fremont, California, have since closed.
The union has struggled to organize other factories, so far without success, but VW unexpectedly agreed last year to allow a vote under pressure from the unions at its home plants in Germany. The maker has said it will not try to influence the results of the balloting, schedule to take place between February 12 and 14.
“Volkswagen has remained completely neutral and workers, whether for or against the union, are allowed equal access to speak freely, distribute literature and campaign for their beliefs,” said Volkswagen worker Michael Cantrell. “But the billboards, advertising and press activities by those not even from our community leave a bad taste in my mouth. We also placed our trust in elected officials but they’ve chosen to put their own political interests first and they are interfering in our election too. It’s just not right.”
VWOA signed a 15-page neutrality agreement with the UAW in late January. The labor representatives from VW AG’s German-based board of supervisors had insisted on neutrality and VWOA’s managers in Chattanooga have been left with no choice but to toe the line.
For their part, conservative, anti-union groups have expressed frustration that VWOA, as part of its commitment to neutrality, has effectively blocked out criticism of the UAW inside the plant. The company’s position, if anything, has turned into a pro-union tilt, according to workers, who are preparing to vote against UAW representation in the run up to this week’s vote, which is being supervised by the National Labor Relations Board office in Atlanta.
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While the outcome of the Volkswagen vote is still up in the air, UAW leaders appear optimistic they may finally get the wedge they need to break into the transplants.
Meanwhile, UAW President Bob King noted in a column posted on the UAW web site that growing concerns about health care, workplace safety and temporary, low-wage jobs, have left American workers looking for a change in 2014.
(Click Here to read about the UAW’s efforts at VW’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.)
“U.S. unions and companies have a history of working against each other, but cooperation has long been the German way. In Germany, work councils are a unique model of collaboration between workers and employers that simply doesn’t exist in the U.S. yet. Works councils and the German system of co-determination demonstrate how company management and a strong union can partner and thrive,” King noted in the opinion piece.
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His position was echoed by a story in the New York Times, which reported that, “The German metalworkers union, IG Metall, represents 2.2 million workers. Not only has the union achieved excellent wages and benefits for its members, it has also worked with Volkswagen to set high standards for quality and profitability. Beyond the interests of the company and workers, German labor relations have fueled the economy.”
The UAW has also been pressing for a vote at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi and is hoping that a successful outcome at VW will help it gain the necessary momentum to overcome the Japanese maker’s resistance.