Smith: Right to work: VW may become infested by UAW

photo Robin Smith

After last week's column about Volkswagen and the UAW, I received incredible emails.

One local woman said her dad had found his truck stripped of its paint in the parking lot at the end of his shift at Wheland Foundry after he voted against a strike.

Why did Chattanooga-based Wheland close a few years ago? Because of the failing automotive market in Michigan.

Then there's the man whose family moved to Chattanooga to start a business in the 1960s. He was told which laborers to hire to avoid union retribution. He took a stand against the union years later and a daughter's bedroom was riddled with bullets.

I'm reminded of an insect that reproduces by identifying a host and injecting its egg inside. The Ichneumon wasp larvae feeds parasitically until its host is killed.

Is comparing a parasite to the thug tactics of labor unions accurate?

Let's look at what big unions did to Detroit, the city legally deemed bankrupt.

Did you know that as recently as February 2013, the city of Detroit employed a farrier for $56,000 in salary and compensation? You know, every major city needs a "specialist in hoof care."

Detroit, with a $380 million budget deficit after a $77 billion federal government bailout, still called for the union-protected "horseshoer" whose job description was actually updated in 1967.

But let's look at the specific handiwork of the Detroit-headquartered United Auto Workers union to give them full credit.

At its peak of production during WWII, Detroit was one of America's most populous cities with 1.8 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As recently as 2009, the Motor City was home to 910,921. The most recent census bureau numbers for the U.S. automotive capital in 2013 noted a remaining 681,090 enduring the economic implosion.

In the last 12 years, Detroit-based car companies have shed over 200,000 jobs while new manufacturers, locating almost exclusively in the non-UAW-South, created more than 20,000 new jobs. According to the Center for Automotive Research, for every job created by an auto manufacturer in the South, 6.1 jobs were lost by the "Big Three" -- Ford, GM and Chrysler.

The excessive compensation contracts negotiated in fear of walk-outs and strikes have been blamed as the cause of the decline of the American auto manufacturers in an analysis that parallels the decline in Detroit's population.

The heavy-handed UAW has contracted wages that tallied up to three-times more than their Southern competitors, with health benefits deemed "excessive." Ironically, the UAW lobbied and worked for the passage of Obamacare but now is demanding an exemption from the taxes of their "Cadillac" insurance or that the law be repealed.

But here at home, wages at the Chattanooga VW plant exceed those of the Spring Hill, Tenn., unionized GM plant ... before the UAW walks in the door. A VW production team member starts around $15 hourly, moves to $16 hourly in six months with an increase to $21 hourly at five years' tenure, plus benefits.

The UAW vote this week doesn't just impact the workers on Volkswagen Drive. The vote will hopefully protect and honor the Tennessee successes and hard work of a fiercely independent group of workers in the Volunteer State.

Or, the vote could completely change the idea of the VW Beetle from an eccentric car ahead of its time into a parasitic insect that will live at the deadly expense of its host.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm and serves on Tennessee's Economic Council on Women.

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