Earlier this month, the United Auto Workers (UAW) held its 36th Constitutional Convention in Detroit. Among the speakers addressing the 1,100 union delegates was Frank Patta, general secretary of Volkswagen’s Global Group Works Council.
In his address, Patta took dead aim at the Chattanooga VW workers who had had the gall to vote against UAW representation last February, vowing that the union will prevail eventually.
“Let me say this to our enemies,” Patta thundered. “We will go on … We will not be beaten.”
Why would Frank Patta care whether or not the UAW gets into Chattanooga? VW’s Global Works Council is dominated by IG Metal, the powerful German industrial union that is a staunch ally of the UAW.
Last November, in fact, Metall’s Detlef Wetzel admitted that “union-free” in Chattanooga is “not a business model” that his union could support. He further warned that if VW and like companies were choosing to operate in Southern right-to-work states to avoid unions, “that cannot be accepted.”
As the Center for Worker Freedom reported earlier this year, Frank Patta is also brother to Sebastian Patta, VW’s vice president of human resources in Chattanooga.
So you have a German labor leader threatening VW workers in America. And Patta will have help: new UAW chief Dennis Williams, who was elected in a landslide on June 4 to replace outgoing president Bob King.
Williams is a former Marine and welder. He is also a bare-knuckle union brawler who led a successful organizing drive against Mitsubishi in the 1980s and who led a polarizing strike against Caterpillar in the 1990s that cost the union an estimated $300 million.
Williams has another distinguishing feature on his resume — closeness with President Barack Obama. Williams endorsed Obama in 2007 and helped organize Obama’s campaign in Iowa in 2008. Of his relationship with Obama nowadays, Williams says, “We don’t talk every day. But I consider the president to be a friend”
As new head of the UAW, Williams is doubling down on his predecessor’s strategy of targeting Southern factories, promising that he’s learned from King’s (many) failed organizing drives. “We learned a great deal of lessons about being more cautious about who is out there trying to undermine the process,” said Williams. “We’ll be more prepared.”
And Williams will have a beefed-up war chest to fund new campaigns: Beginning this August, UAW members will see a 25 percent increase in their union dues, the first hike since 1967, which will bring in an estimated $45 million per year to the union’s coffers.
The UAW plans to spend at least $15 million of that annually over the next four years to organize Southern auto factories like Mercedes Benz in Vance, Ala., and Nissan in Canton, Miss. (though how this benefits Detroit workers — whose dues fund these operations — is a mystery).
And for those who think the UAW will have to wait at least a year for another go at Chattanooga, Bob King helpfully reminded everyone in April: “We could wait a year for the NLRB. We could do a private election earlier than that … There’s a number of different options.”
A new, more aggressive, more political president with more money is his pocket, a lot of options, and something to prove:
The UAW just became more dangerous than ever.
Matt Patterson is executive director, Center for Worker Freedom, at Americans for Tax Reform. Mpatterson. firstname.lastname@example.org.