published Monday, February 10th, 2014

Smith: Right to work: VW may become infested by UAW

By Robin Smith

After last week's column about Volkswagen and the UAW, I received incredible emails.

One local woman said her dad had found his truck stripped of its paint in the parking lot at the end of his shift at Wheland Foundry after he voted against a strike.

Why did Chattanooga-based Wheland close a few years ago? Because of the failing automotive market in Michigan.

Then there's the man whose family moved to Chattanooga to start a business in the 1960s. He was told which laborers to hire to avoid union retribution. He took a stand against the union years later and a daughter's bedroom was riddled with bullets.

I'm reminded of an insect that reproduces by identifying a host and injecting its egg inside. The Ichneumon wasp larvae feeds parasitically until its host is killed.

Is comparing a parasite to the thug tactics of labor unions accurate?

Let's look at what big unions did to Detroit, the city legally deemed bankrupt.

Did you know that as recently as February 2013, the city of Detroit employed a farrier for $56,000 in salary and compensation? You know, every major city needs a "specialist in hoof care."

Detroit, with a $380 million budget deficit after a $77 billion federal government bailout, still called for the union-protected "horseshoer" whose job description was actually updated in 1967.

But let's look at the specific handiwork of the Detroit-headquartered United Auto Workers union to give them full credit.

At its peak of production during WWII, Detroit was one of America's most populous cities with 1.8 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As recently as 2009, the Motor City was home to 910,921. The most recent census bureau numbers for the U.S. automotive capital in 2013 noted a remaining 681,090 enduring the economic implosion.

In the last 12 years, Detroit-based car companies have shed over 200,000 jobs while new manufacturers, locating almost exclusively in the non-UAW-South, created more than 20,000 new jobs. According to the Center for Automotive Research, for every job created by an auto manufacturer in the South, 6.1 jobs were lost by the "Big Three" -- Ford, GM and Chrysler.

The excessive compensation contracts negotiated in fear of walk-outs and strikes have been blamed as the cause of the decline of the American auto manufacturers in an analysis that parallels the decline in Detroit's population.

The heavy-handed UAW has contracted wages that tallied up to three-times more than their Southern competitors, with health benefits deemed "excessive." Ironically, the UAW lobbied and worked for the passage of Obamacare but now is demanding an exemption from the taxes of their "Cadillac" insurance or that the law be repealed.

But here at home, wages at the Chattanooga VW plant exceed those of the Spring Hill, Tenn., unionized GM plant ... before the UAW walks in the door. A VW production team member starts around $15 hourly, moves to $16 hourly in six months with an increase to $21 hourly at five years' tenure, plus benefits.

The UAW vote this week doesn't just impact the workers on Volkswagen Drive. The vote will hopefully protect and honor the Tennessee successes and hard work of a fiercely independent group of workers in the Volunteer State.

Or, the vote could completely change the idea of the VW Beetle from an eccentric car ahead of its time into a parasitic insect that will live at the deadly expense of its host.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm and serves on Tennessee's Economic Council on Women.

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nucanuck said...

VW has a long history of working with unions as partners to accomplish mutual goals.

Unions in the US came about because of horrendous working conditions imposed by greedy employers. I say that because my great-grandfather was one of the larger employers in the US and real ball-buster. If ever a company needed to be unionized, it was his. He fought the unions all the way to the Supreme Court, winning his case, but losing his business to a union boycott of his products. A Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one.

If the workers at VW feel well treated, chances are good they will vote down unionization. If there are serious issues that need to be addressed, the union may prevail. Unions have their place when working conditions and compensation swing too far in favor of the employer.

Over the past few decades management compensation has exploded to the upside while worker compensation has been flat. That ratio needs to improve for the worker.

February 10, 2014 at 12:39 a.m.
hotdiggity said...

Robin, perhaps you are ignorant of the fact the the chief demise of the Big 3 in Detroit was the fault of their management. Failure to innovate their designs, update their plants, lack of quality, poor gas mileage, etc. led to loss of marketshare to foreign automakers.

Loss of marketshare = loss of profits = loss of jobs. How hard is that to understand Robin? But hey, we know you are loathe to dare place any blame on big business. It's so much easier to demean the people who provide the sweat and toil to support their families.

Robin perhaps you and the right wing could trot out a few biblical verses to show we are being misled by people who wish to have a say for the labor they provide.

Perhaps 1 Peter 2:18 - Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

Maybe Ephesians 6:5 - Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.

February 10, 2014 at 6:10 a.m.
LibDem said...

Ms. Smith's anecdotes of union busting and brutality to union organizers seem to have been edited out due to space limitations.

February 10, 2014 at 9:13 a.m.
moon4kat said...

Ms. Smith, what happened to the right wing mantra of keeping government out of business decisions? Ahh, we see that's only when it agrees with your anti-labor agenda.

February 10, 2014 at 10:35 a.m.
charivara said...

Tennessee ranks 45th in average income. The result of “fiercely independent” workers individually selling their labor in a union free “right to work state.” Good thing many are too distracted by Republican duplicity to realize that being fiercely independent has no market value, except to employers. Do you also think they are proudly poor?

So, when are we going to see a column about supporting a “fiercely independent” woman’s right to an abortion within the limits set by the Supreme Court? Or supporting a “fiercely independent” lesbian’s right to marry her partner? Exactly how far does Republican support for “fiercely independent” people go?

And since you seem concerned about excessive compensation, how about a column about the $18.5 million bonus and $1.5 salary for Jamie Dimon (head of taxpayer bailed out JPMorgan-Chase which was fined $1 billion for lack of properly overseeing their traders) as being “excessive”? Or one that decries the fact 4 Walton heirs have more wealth than the bottom 120 million Americans combined while they pay many of their employees so little that they qualify for tax payer funded food stamps. Isn’t that excessive, especially since those four didn’t work a day in their lives for their wealth? Worth a column, don’t you think? Just a suggestion.

February 10, 2014 at 12:59 p.m.
javelin363 said...

Robin seems to think we are better then the north because we will work cheep and settle for less benefits. and BTW just who deemed Detroit's excessive. We who work for others want to have a decent life style, to raise out kids, have medical care for our families. And I don't care what R.R. said "trickle down" does not work. Robin being" fiercely independent " does not put beans on the table. And one last thing Robin, the UAW has been in Tennessee since 1992.

February 10, 2014 at 1:48 p.m.
librul said...

"I'm reminded of an insect that reproduces by identifying a host and injecting its egg inside. The Ichneumon wasp larvae feeds parasitically until its host is killed."

Sorta like what Teapublicans are doing to American democracy.

February 11, 2014 at 8:23 a.m.
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