Cook: VW, unions and Cobb County

Cook: VW, unions and Cobb County

December 10th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

It's right there on the list. Just before food and clothing. Right after the section on people being able to vote and participate in government.

"Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."

It's Article 23 on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The 30-article document was written after the horrors of World War II (one of its primary authors was Eleanor Roosevelt) and expresses an exalted vision of what's possible for humans here on earth.

It lists the fundamental rights we should have - any and all of us - simply by virtue of being alive.

Some things you have to earn: a ski trip to the Alps, a second home, a third set of golf clubs. Yet other things are as attached to us as our own skin. Just by being born, we have the right to worship freely or own property or have a family.

We have the right to be free from unwarranted arrest or torture or slavery.

And the right to form a union.

Will that happen here? Will the United Auto Workers unionize the Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South?

Before we look at who's coming to town this week to speak about that, let's bring up something else.

Baseball.

Some tea party members in Georgia are angry over the proposed move to bring the Braves from downtown Atlanta to suburban Cobb County, where leaders are dangling millions in tax incentives before the Braves like a nail file before a Niekro.

The county will spend $300 million or so in taxpayer dollars to help the Braves move, an amount tea party opponents say is a huge misuse of public money and a violation of conservative logic.

Hmmm. $300 million. Sound familiar?

In 2008, VW moved here after receiving the biggest tax incentives in the history of American auto plants. Our elected leaders offered $577 million in state and local incentives, including $350 million in tax breaks and $81 million worth of land.

VW has since created more than 12,400 direct and indirect jobs, and now employs more than 2,400 at the plant, according to a University of Tennessee study released this year. VW's annual income provides more than $50 million in state and local taxes.

Conversely, the Braves (think the move will prompt a mascot change?) are expected to create roughly 4,000 annual jobs and generate nearly $9 million in earnings for Cobb County just from visitor spending alone, according to a document published by Yahoo! Sports. This doesn't count the mixed-use development on the outskirts of the stadium that the Braves are planning.

Here's a crazy thought: If you could swap VW for the Braves, would you? Won't happen of course, but just for fun, imagine if Enterprise South was no longer home to an auto plant but to the Braves.

How much in tax money would you be willing to give away for that to happen?

Would we demand that the Braves not be allowed to join a players union?

Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

The debate on the UAW and VW has reached hyperbole and rhetoric on the level of an election year. Mike Elk, a journalist with In These Times, published a story last month showing how out-of-state conservative groups have financed efforts to oppose unionization here.

Elk discusses the role of Matt Patterson, a consultant based in Washington, D.C., who developed a playbook on how to defeat the UAW's efforts here.

"Within a few weeks, I had organized a coalition consisting of members of the Tea Party, Students for Liberty, former VW employees, politicians and businessmen to craft and deliver a consistent message that has shaped public opinion," Patterson wrote in a report Elk obtained.

The funders behind Patterson's work are of particular interest to Elk, who quotes one anonymous anti-union consultant he calls Martin.

"It is definitely corporate money. It is obviously someone who doesn't want it known who is doing this, and they have done a good job of covering it up," Martin told Elk. "It could be the local Chamber [of Commerce] trying to keep their fingerprint off of it. It could be Nissan seeing this is where they go to cut [unionization] off before it makes its way down to Mississippi."

This Thursday, Elk comes to town, speaking at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga's UC Auditorium at 6 p.m. His trip is being sponsored by Chattanooga for Workers. It's open to the public.

The right to form a union should be, too.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.