published Saturday, June 7th, 2014

UAW says it's changing tactics to organize Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant

Anti-union group questions VW-UAW neutrality pact


Signs from the UAW’s unsuccessful campaign in Chattanooga.
Signs from the UAW’s unsuccessful campaign in Chattanooga.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.

The United Auto Workers is re-thinking its tactics to organize workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant and at other foreign carmakers' factories, but an anti-union group said the UAW hasn't given employees a compelling reason to join.

"That's why, even with VW's assistance, they still lost the vote even after reportedly spending $5 million on the Chattanooga organizing drive," said Patrick Semmens, a National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation vice president.

VW workers voted in February by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin against aligning with the UAW. The newly elected secretary-treasurer for the union told Reuters this week the union is changing its strategy to organize VW and other auto workers.

Gary Casteel, who led unionizing efforts at the Chattanooga plant, said the union will continue to have active organizing efforts at VW and at Daimler's Mercedes plant in Alabama and a Nissan factory in Mississippi.

Casteel said the strategy shift is a reaction to anti-union groups and Republican politicians, who worked against the UAW effort in Chattanooga. The UAW complained that they improperly influenced the election outcome.

"The things that we were doing last year don't work because of this dynamic that you didn't have to deal with" in the past, Casteel told Reuters. "So, we're re-evaluating where we're at with all of them."

He said the UAW may not be as confrontational as in the past. Casteel recently was named as deputy chairman of the Daimler world employee council.

Semmens said he doesn't see how the UAW can overcome the fact that when VW workers feel like they are being treated fairly, and the UAW praised VW for how it treats its workers, they have no reason to bring in a union.

"In the past, new union organizing strategies generally meant more backroom deals with employers in order to get them to agree to a card check in place of a secret ballot vote," Semmens said.

He said that the UAW, instead of looking for new revenue streams by organizing plants where there isn't demand for the union, should focus on its existing members who just had their dues raised in part to pay for the Chattanooga campaign.

Semmens added that a neutrality pact signed by VW and the UAW before the election stated there wouldn't be any organizing activity at the plant for one year unless the parties otherwise agreed.

He said that "presumably VW would need to want to enforce it. That said, if they ignore that, it should give workers another reason to doubt any other promises the union makes."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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