Where would dues go if the Volkswagen plant was unionized in Chattanooga?

Where would dues go if the Volkswagen plant was unionized in Chattanooga?

July 25th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Local Regional News

A factory worker performs diagnostics on a Passat before it is taken through a dyanometer.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

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"The union believes in fair wages and that the company should share some percentage of those profits with the people that helped create the wealth."

- Michael Herron, chairman of UAW Local 1853 at General Motors' Spring Hill, Tenn., plant

"You can bet the UAW will throw their political and monetary weight around Chattanooga as well. No doubt about it."

- Matt Patterson, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center For Economic Freedom

Volkswagen team leader Shannon Fossett said that if the United Auto Workers gains the right to represent Chattanooga plant employees, he sees paying union dues as sort of like buying insurance.

"You don't need insurance -- until you need it," he said. "It's like car insurance. You don't need it until you need it."

But Ronald Nafus, who said he used to work at a UAW-represented plant near Niagara Falls, N.Y., said workers at the Chattanooga factory ought to think twice about joining the union.

"Their money is going out the door," he said. "[The UAW's] main interest is to get the money."

If workers vote for a union and a German-style works council at Volkswagen, they will have to pay for the privilege. According to the UAW, hourly workers earmark the equivalent of two hours' pay per month in dues while a salaried employee would pay equal to 1.15 percent.

A production worker paid $19 an hour wage would contribute monthly union dues of $38, or $456 a year. Multiplied by 1,600, the number of people who work on the floor each day, that amounts to nearly $730,000 annually.

Also, UAW-negotiated bonuses are charged at 1.15 percent. That's an extra $80,000 based on an average $4,400 bonus, putting the total generated by dues at almost $810,000 a year. If bonuses are larger -- profit-sharing could reach $10,000 per employee in a Ford Motor plant in Louisville, Ky., this year -- the UAW would receive more.

Under Tennessee's right-to-work statute, however, no employee has to join the union or pay union dues.

But the UAW's website shows that under its constitution, 38 percent of dues stay with the local. Another 32 percent goes to the international union's general fund and the final 30 percent is to go into the UAW's strike fund.

Michael Herron, chairman of UAW Local 1853 at General Motors' Spring Hill, Tenn., plant, said the union's mission is job creation and security for its members. The UAW has processes that help grow and enhance a company's profitability, he said.

Herron said, for example, the union offers a lot of training to help its members learn different skills, and dues help finance that as well.

"The UAW also believes that the better the company performs in the marketplace, the better that it is for the workers," he said in an email. "Additionally, the union believes in fair wages and that the company should share some percentage of those profits with the people that helped create the wealth."

Todd Dunn, UAW president for Local 862 at the Louisville Ford plants, said the union also gives workers a voice in issues such as workplace safety and in vehicle quality.

"Everybody's game is up," he said about quality by the automakers.

He added that the union helps workers handle concerns related to workplace intimidation.

Matt Patterson is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Economic Freedom who opposes the works council in Chattanooga and the UAW. He said the union is not just interested in employees but is "broadly political and extreme in many cases."

He said at a recent public forum that the UAW supports "left-wing causes and liberal positions" at local, state and national levels, and that the union spends a lot of dues money on politics.

"You can bet the UAW will throw their political and monetary weight around Chattanooga as well," he said. "No doubt about it."

Though U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Gov. Bill Haslam have questioned the need for the UAW in Chattanooga, Herron said the union and a works council will be "something very beneficial."

"We want to make sure there is fairness and equity in the workplace," Herron said.

Citing Corker's recent criticism, Herron said it should be up to VW workers "and no one else" whether to join a union, without "arm-twisting by millionaire senators like Bob Corker."

He said Corker and others like him "have no idea what the average U.S. worker goes through daily to support their children and try to pursue the American dream of home ownership and college for their kids."

Corker last week agreed the workers in Chattanooga will have to decide for themselves. But he said the UAW had a negative effect on Detroit, which last week became the biggest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy, and he worried about what could happen in Chattanooga and Tennessee.

"For us to take a step backward right now, I hope it will never happen," he said.

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