published Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Cook: VW, unions and Cobb County

It’s right there on the list. Just before food and clothing. Right after the section on people being able to vote and participate in government.

“Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

It’s Article 23 on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The 30-article document was written after the horrors of World War II (one of its primary authors was Eleanor Roosevelt) and expresses an exalted vision of what’s possible for humans here on earth.

It lists the fundamental rights we should have — any and all of us — simply by virtue of being alive.

Some things you have to earn: a ski trip to the Alps, a second home, a third set of golf clubs. Yet other things are as attached to us as our own skin. Just by being born, we have the right to worship freely or own property or have a family.

We have the right to be free from unwarranted arrest or torture or slavery.

And the right to form a union.

Will that happen here? Will the United Auto Workers unionize the Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South?

Before we look at who’s coming to town this week to speak about that, let’s bring up something else.


Some tea party members in Georgia are angry over the proposed move to bring the Braves from downtown Atlanta to suburban Cobb County, where leaders are dangling millions in tax incentives before the Braves like a nail file before a Niekro.

The county will spend $300 million or so in taxpayer dollars to help the Braves move, an amount tea party opponents say is a huge misuse of public money and a violation of conservative logic.

Hmmm. $300 million. Sound familiar?

In 2008, VW moved here after receiving the biggest tax incentives in the history of American auto plants. Our elected leaders offered $577 million in state and local incentives, including $350 million in tax breaks and $81 million worth of land.

VW has since created more than 12,400 direct and indirect jobs, and now employs more than 2,400 at the plant, according to a University of Tennessee study released this year. VW’s annual income provides more than $50 million in state and local taxes.

Conversely, the Braves (think the move will prompt a mascot change?) are expected to create roughly 4,000 annual jobs and generate nearly $9 million in earnings for Cobb County just from visitor spending alone, according to a document published by Yahoo! Sports. This doesn’t count the mixed-use development on the outskirts of the stadium that the Braves are planning.

Here’s a crazy thought: If you could swap VW for the Braves, would you? Won’t happen of course, but just for fun, imagine if Enterprise South was no longer home to an auto plant but to the Braves.

How much in tax money would you be willing to give away for that to happen?

Would we demand that the Braves not be allowed to join a players union?

Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

The debate on the UAW and VW has reached hyperbole and rhetoric on the level of an election year. Mike Elk, a journalist with In These Times, published a story last month showing how out-of-state conservative groups have financed efforts to oppose unionization here.

Elk discusses the role of Matt Patterson, a consultant based in Washington, D.C., who developed a playbook on how to defeat the UAW’s efforts here.

“Within a few weeks, I had organized a coalition consisting of members of the Tea Party, Students for Liberty, former VW employees, politicians and businessmen to craft and deliver a consistent message that has shaped public opinion,” Patterson wrote in a report Elk obtained.

The funders behind Patterson’s work are of particular interest to Elk, who quotes one anonymous anti-union consultant he calls Martin.

“It is definitely corporate money. It is obviously someone who doesn’t want it known who is doing this, and they have done a good job of covering it up,” Martin told Elk. “It could be the local Chamber [of Commerce] trying to keep their fingerprint off of it. It could be Nissan seeing this is where they go to cut [unionization] off before it makes its way down to Mississippi.”

This Thursday, Elk comes to town, speaking at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s UC Auditorium at 6 p.m. His trip is being sponsored by Chattanooga for Workers. It’s open to the public.

The right to form a union should be, too.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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soakya said...

you cite a projection from a study that uses a simple multiplier done by UTK and paid for by the Chamber who is the driving force behind this abuse of taxpayer money. here are the facts. As of fiscal year 2012 the results are below. In 2006-07 we see a sharp incline in population which continues to climb until 2012. In the same time period we see a rise in the number of unemployed and a decline in the actual number of employees. Since 2007 the number of unemployed has increased by 5,550 and the number employed has fallen by 5,440. Per Capita income grew at a faster pace from 2001-2007. Per capita income grew by 26% or $7,971 dollars during 2001-07 compared to 4% or $1,829 dollars from 2007-2011. From 2007-12 the employed to civilian labor force ratio rate fell by 3.32 %. Today, more than 2 years after Volkswagen opened their doors Hamilton County has fewer workers and more unemployed and slower growth in per capita income. Take a look at the debt over the same 6 years. It has ballooned to over 200 million.

Tennessee looks almost identical to Hamilton County. In 2007 TN had 9,400 more people working than in 2012. A massive 101,100 Tennessean’s joined the unemployment line since 2007 and we have added $1,061,526,000 in net bonded debt. Since 2007 the employed to civilian labor force ratio has declined by 3.1%. Per capita income also grew at a faster pace from 2001-07, $6904 dollars or 26% compared to $4487 dollars or 13% from 2007-12.
The only thing that has taken place is a shuffling of jobs from one industry to another and from one county to the other and from one state to another state.

Spin it any way you want Mr. Cook it ain't working.

The one no vote from cobb county came from a democratic and one republican county commissioner had the nerve to declare her conservatism while another admitted he didn't know where they were going to get the money but it was going to get done. Is that how you bought your home, tell your banker that you don't know where you are going to get the money to pay for your new $500,000 home and see if he gives you a loan.

One more thing, since we don't have to earn our first home I would like a bigger one with a pool and a hot tub.

December 10, 2013 at 10:14 a.m.
soakya said...

If you could swap VW for the Braves, would you? Let them both come with the caveat they spend all their money and not taxpayer money.

Here’s a crazy thought: If you could swap VW for the Braves, would you? Won’t happen of course, but just for fun, imagine if Enterprise South was no longer home to an auto plant but to the Braves.How much in tax money would you be willing to give away for that to happen? none

Don't forget to add 150 million federal tax credit to that 577 million VW received.

December 10, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.
AgentX said...

I think the employees have the right to form a union, if they so choose. That's where the hold-up is. Do the employees at VW actually WANT the union? There are plenty of people preaching from both sides, like any other campaign. But it will come down to the employees, as it should. Personally, I've been in a union before for many years (not the UAW). I think, in the past, there was a time and place for unions. However, I think this day and age, unions are not needed like they may have been years ago. I certainly think that the UAW has become more of a destructive force in the auto industry. Look at auto makers that have done just fine without them, and didn't have to go through bankruptcy either. I think the UAW tries to force themselves upon others because without growth (and obviously more income from dues), the UAW may shrivel and disappear.

December 11, 2013 at 8:31 a.m.
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