VW workers, don't open that Pandora's box

VW workers, don't open that Pandora's box

February 11th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

A worker fixes a sign at a Volkswagen Golf car.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Don't do it, VW workers. Don't open a box you may never be able to close.

By now, the lines have been drawn in an epic struggle for control -- and people are watching from around the world -- at an automobile plant in Chattanooga.

It comes down to this: Volkswagen workers -- nearly 1,500 of them -- will vote Wednesday through Friday whether to be represented by the United Auto Workers union in helping set up what VW refers to as a works council, or they will vote to continue the union's shutout by foreign automakers in the South.

What happens if the box is opened?

First and foremost, the UAW enters the room. With it, VW employees who choose to join will dole out two and a half hours of pay per month for what the union says is a -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge -- strike fund. But the UAW would never strike the nice plant that allowed it a foothold in the South, right?

Where, in fact, does the UAW in general, among other places, put its money? In the 2013-14 campaign cycle so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, it has given $71,901 to Democrat candidates and zero, zip, nada to Republican candidates.

In the 2012 cycle, it gave $1,427,731 to Democrat candidates and $45,053 in efforts against Republican candidates. Republican candidates, meanwhile, got nothing.

VW workers, that would be your money.

These are the workers who already make more than some unionized workers at the GM plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., columnist Robin Smith noted on this page Monday.

But UAW negotiated wages are higher still. So what's likely to be the UAW's first order of business once a works council is established? More money for its members, of course.

And that would be at a time when sales of the Chattanooga-manufactured Passat were down 36 percent year-over-year in December and VW sales overall were down 22 percent over the same period.

It doesn't make much economic sense.

Consider also the automaker's desire for a works council in which blue- and white-collar workers allegedly sit down together to discuss day-to-day operations such as working hours, training and safety. The UAW, however, would do the bargaining for wages and benefits.

The last time it did such a favor for VW, its New Stanton, Pa., assembly plant closed after only six years. During its 1978-1984 operation, according to Fortune magazine, the plant had no fewer than six walkouts.

And there's this: The works council itself -- while used in all or nearly all VW plants across the world -- is inconsistent with U.S. law, according to Bloomberg. Indeed, it reported the National Labor Relations Board in a 1994 in case involving Electromation Inc. found, building on a 1959 Supreme Court decision, that the law prohibits the creation of any employer-assisted organ that engages in bilateral communications with employees on wages, hours or working conditions.

If that's so, the UAW would, in turn, become the de facto representative in all collective bargaining with VW. Never mind those others workers, who -- in the first place -- haven't exactly been vociferous in talking about how bad conditions are at the plant.

All workers haven't been taken into account in the run-up to the vote, anyway.

Although VW vowed to remain neutral, a contract the automaker signed with the UAW last month said the two would coordinate their public statements on the elections and align their communications with the plant's employees. Further, the two set a quick election (it's typically up to 42 days, according to a former NLRB board member, instead of the nine that were allotted) and effectively shut out any organized opposition inside the plant.

But what the union is desperate for, and other foreign automakers in the South are desperate to fend off, is the foothold it would attain with election.

With membership having fallen from 1.5 million members in 1979 to less than 400,000 today, the UAW would love to get its grips on BMW in South Carolina and Daimler in Alabama.

There are also Toyota, Honda, Nissan and other Japanese automakers scattered across the South, but their managements have staunchly opposed UAW representation.

Without a union victory in the South, "I don't think there's a long-term future for the UAW, I really don't," UAW President Bob King said in 2011.

Essentially, that's why the automakers came to the South in the first place -- because the UAW wasn't likely to be invited to the table.

So, VW workers, consider the opposition by Chattanooga boosters such as U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam and former Hamilton County Mayor and Tennessee Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey.

Think about what Don Jackson, the former president of manufacturing at the VW plant, said over the weekend -- that the union would increase costs at the plant 20-30 percent and that the union would lessen the chances of the plant attracting the assembly line for VW's new SUV.

Consider your money and how it would be spent by the UAW. Consider your working conditions now and if the UAW would really improve them.

Then vote to put the lid back on the box.