published Friday, September 13th, 2013

The new gilded age and the fight for VW’S UAW

  • photo
    Volkswagen is responsible for creating 4,000 jobs in Chattanooga.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

How often is it that a company comes to your town, builds a $1 billion state-of-the-art facility, hires 2,700 people, provides a market for support businesses that employ another 1,300, and spins a payroll and purchasing net that generates more than $50 million in state and local tax revenue every year?

And how often is it that the same company — following a business model that works well for it at 61 other plants around the world — insists that its workers be partners in determining business practices.

And how often does any company invite a union participation to help create that partnership and make its business better?

Volkswagen is that one single company. It has invested in Chattanooga. It already is responsible for creating at least 4,000 new jobs here. And it churns $50 million a year in tax revenues into our community and the state.

VW wants a formal, legal way to have a works council — a labor board that talks with management about issues such as work hours, training and safety.

How refreshing. In this new Gilded Age in America, when 1 percent of Americans are reaping in 20 percent of all the country’s income and when Fortune 500 CEOs make 204 times what regular workers average, Volkswagen wants a works council. Here, we call it a union. Volkswagen knows that team building and working together (their word is “co-determination”) is better than repression (the South’s expression would be “squeezing blood from a turnip”).

It’s all spelled out in the 130 words on the union cards that a majority of VW workers already have signed, according to United Auto Workers representatives.

“We the employees of Volkswagen are joining together to create the most successful Volkswagen Chattanooga facility possible. We recognize that our job security and our success as employees are bound up with the success of our company. We commend and embrace the Volkswagen philosophy of co-determination and aim to contribute to the production of the highest quality products, safe and efficient production methods, and the overall profitability of Volkswagen.

“We believe that the best way to actively participate in our company and to contribute to VW’s continued success is to achieve representation as our colleagues have at the other 61 Volkswagen facilities across the globe. We choose to be represented by the UAW because, by working together, we can make the Passat the #1 car in the United States.”

But for all the good things Volkswagen has brought to Tennessee and Chattanooga, entrenched powers here are acting as though they’ve just just been blasted off Lookout Mountain’s gilded brow. Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Ron Harr all have implored VW to leave the union standing outside the door.

Woe is us, our leaders say. If you bring that union in, we’ll lose other prospective employers. Really? Will firefighters and police officers and teachers and postal workers and UPS and airplane pilots and truck drivers all leave Chattanooga? Or if UAW arrives will those prospective auto suppliers refuse to sell any parts to any of VW’s other 61 auto plants worldwide? Or to any other automakers elsewhere in the world that have unions? Will they not ship their goods in the trucks and planes operated by union workers? Will Tennesseans not buy cars?

There are 14.4 million U.S. workers who belong to unions, and another 1.6 million people work in jobs covered by union contracts. More than half of all union members work for city, county, state and the federal governments.

Nationally, union membership has been on the decline, but not in Tennessee, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here, it’s growing. Of the Volunteer State’s 2.5 million workers, 4.6 percent were in unions in 2011 and 4.8 percent — about 124,000 — were union members in 2012. Another 28,000 worked in jobs covered by union contracts.

And, yes, in 2012, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members made more money: Union members had median weekly earnings of $943, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $742.

So how is it that Gov. Haslam and Sen. Corker and Mr. Harr think unions are bad for Tennessee?

Guys it can’t be that hard to retool your “right-to-work” talking points. Take a VW “co-determination” lesson. Try something like: “We’re a right-to-work state that knows how to work together with unions and work councils.”

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gjuster said...

How often does a company come to town and spend a billion? Often when you give them 600 million + to do it

September 13, 2013 at 6:50 a.m.
aae1049 said...

I take issue with the number presented for local tax generation that you attribute to VW. You write, "$50 million in state and local tax revenue every year?"

That is absolute hogwash. The Chamber of Commerce is still using theoretical commerce multipliers for estimates, when real municipal sales and property tax data is available. The true measure of the financial impact is in city and county sales and property tax revenue, which is flatter than the Mississippi Delta. Why does the TFP continue to tell the public the big Chamber of Commerce lie. Corporate welfare is impoverishing Chattanooga, and the TFP keeps promoting the same lies.

Show us where $50 million is generated in local taxes! April Eidson, citizen watch group, Little Chicago Watch.

September 13, 2013 at 7:39 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Oh, the corporate welfare club of Chattanooga's Chamber of Commerce.

Did you know that the city and county give the Chamber $1.1 million annually of our local property and sales taxes. Why do the taxpayers have to subsidize this rich UNION of corporations? The Chamber is a UNION of corporations. Their members pay dues, and the Chamber lobbies local government to exempt their members from property taxes, 52 corporations in the city and county pay no property taxes or greatly reduced property taxes, yet they receive all the services you and I receive.

We the working people have to subsidize the Chamber of Commerce to the tune of $1.1 million annually, and we get to pay for the list of 52's share of services. Someone has to pay property taxes, so small, medium sized local business and property owners get to pay for the Chamber crowd. I resent paying the list of 52's share of property taxes, and shafting local companies in this manner. We would have been better off investing $212 million we spent on VW in public education. The return would have been much greater.

Finally, the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce also has a political pac, and they are the puppet masters of local elected officials. So, it is very hard to stop corporate welfare, our city and county officials just keeping giving us a tax increase by exempting these corporations from taxes.

September 13, 2013 at 7:50 a.m.
Idial1911 said...

There was a time in this country’s history when unions actually served a beneficial purpose. That was before OSHA, before the forty hour work week, before mandatory workman’s comp insurance… Now days, unions are nothing more than a division of organized crime. “What crime?” you may ask, Extortion! Unions demand more and more pay and benefits from employers by threatening walk outs and strikes. Meanwhile, the rest of us are WORKING for our pay. Eventually, the employers are forced to compensate their union employees to the point that they can no longer make a profit. When that happens, the company goes out of business and the employees no longer have jobs. Just look at Detroit.

September 13, 2013 at 9:42 a.m.
aae1049 said...

The "look at Detroit" agreement. Do you isdial911 believe that global competition from foreign car manufacturer had an impact on auto industry. Surely, you are not suggesting that unions put themselves out of business and invited Toyota and Nissan in. Oh please, the unions did not want to put themselves out of business. Global econ killed Detroit.

September 13, 2013 at 10:14 a.m.
rick1 said...

This is a very good article by Thomas Sowell on unions.

September 13, 2013 at 6:07 p.m.
fairmon said...

A works council is not a union. The only reason the UAW is involved is the U.S. laws that requires union involvement. It is not legal to have a works council in the those VW works with in Europe and other countries.

September 14, 2013 at 1:25 a.m.
jcampb11 said...

Sentator Corker was booed by the GM UAW workers at Springhill when he visited. They knew who he represented or better who he didn't. Being unionized does not only help with working conditions, wages and protection when one is too old to work but probably most importantly safety. When a boss tells you to do something that you know is unsafe union workers have that extra layer of protection by getting the Union Rep's opinion on that safety issue. It saves lives!!

September 14, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.
amyinsparta said...

Osha, workman's comp, and other rules and regs are all for one reason-to give the worker the safety and salary that they deserve. If you don't know the history of workers and working conditions in this country, then you just need to keep quiet. Without unions, workers would all be working for 7 bucks an hour if that much. The corporations went to the third world not because they were losing money but because they refused to share their filthy riches with their employees. So now, the CEOs and other do nothings reap 120%+ what the workers do, and some of you think that is the way it's supposed to be. What is wrong with you? Do you really want to work for a company that can cheat on environmental regulations, working hour regs, working environment regs, benefits regs? Because that is what goes on in Bangladesh, China, and most other third world countries. If you work for yourself, that is your problem; if you work for a bank, does the bank pay and work you any way they wish and you take it? And you think that is how the world is supposed to work??!! Please! read up on what it was like in this country before unions and decide whether you want to go back to that. Make no mistake; If left to their own devices, 99% of the corporations would do away with every law that keeps them from making more obscene profits than they already do. I've never understood why so many people actually take part in their own destruction. amazing

September 15, 2013 at 9:24 p.m.
tnala1998 said...

It's a shame that with all that this company has done for TN, Chattanooga and employed and created so much for the workers of this area, that the Union has shown itself. When the plant first opened with the promise of steady work, excellent pay and the right to work without union involvement, we couldn't get enough of it. Now that the company has been here, and is prospering, the Union has convinced people that what they have is not good enough. Not once do they inform the workers that their dues go to pay generous salaries to people who do not care about them or their work situation. If you want an entity that cares about its employees develop an employee council that interacts one-on-one with the company. Don't rely on people who do not know what is going on. I've seen Unions close companies because of outrageous demands, countless strikes that leave the employees getting unemployment or minimum pay from the union. I grew up in a community where unions were very prevalent and watched company after company close its doors in our towns only to open in foreign countries where the unions had forced the companies to go.

To me, all unions do is move the power struggle from one place to another. Our cities, state and federal government have regulations to protect you. Unions were a wonderful thing when they started but the power and corruption that followed should give us pause. Think before you act.

September 16, 2013 at 9:53 a.m.
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