Volkswagen executives recently announced that the nearly 1,500 workers at its assembly plant in Chattanooga will be holding a secret ballot election to determine whether or not they will join the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). According to The New York Times, the UAW "has voiced unusual optimism about winning."
This drastic change in position is surprising considering that just last fall a United Auto Workers (UAW) representative openly worried about the prospects of holding a secret ballot election." In truth, the outcome of the election is anything but certain, but what is clear is that Volkswagen made the right decision only after receiving tremendous pressure from groups fighting for the interests of workers.
The unionization process in Chattanooga commenced with a process known as card check, whereby employees sign cards to indicate their support for workplace organizing. However, this form of organizing has been historically controversial, which is why the Supreme Court and Congress have recognized the secret ballot as the preferable method for determining employee intent.
Card check enables union officials to intimidate, bully and illegally harass workers into signing away their right to vote their conscience. Moreover, the process is open to manipulation because workers often fear retribution from their pro-union colleagues and labor organizers since there is no element of privacy. The intrinsic lack of fairness has been well established and even evidenced at Volkswagen, where employees filed a lawsuit alleging that the union tricked them into signing cards, as well as making it overly burdensome to renege their support.
Union representatives tried to strong-arm Volkswagen into capitulating to its demands and denying workers a secret ballot vote, but public outcry and scrutiny forced the company not to acquiesce. Yet, despite the fact a secret ballot vote is forthcoming; it does not mean Volkswagen's workers are out of the woods. The UAW has begun an intense campaign, lobbying workers to vote in favor of representation.
But before plant workers make a decision, they should pause to consider the very serious ramifications of unionization, an action that would cost them hard-earned dollars, result in the loss of their individuality and imperil the fate of their employer. If workers elect to be represented by the UAW, the result will be that they will no longer be able to represent their own interests. Decisions will be in the hands of union leaders, who have a track record of caring about their own personal interests more so than the welfare of workers. Equally significant is the fact that by joining a union, workers will be required to pay dues, much of which goes to subsidize liberal causes that employees may or may not personally agree with.
Workers at the VW plant should ask some tough questions. For instance, the UAW is increasing union dues this year on its members. Will there be another increase next year? And another increase the next? The union says the dues increases are designed to build up the strike fund. Is there a national strike in the offing? How long will workers be expected to strike, receiving no meaningful income for their families? Employees deserve answers to these questions.
Perhaps the greatest threat of recognizing the union is that it jeopardizes the future of the company and the workers themselves. Union boss demands and mismanagement have contributed to the bankruptcy of some of America's greatest auto companies. Why would the fate of Volkswagen workers be any different than that of General Motors, which was brought to the brink of death by the UAW and saved with a massive, last minute taxpayer bailout?
This decision is one that is next to impossible to reverse and cannot be taken lightly. As workers in Chattanooga vote, it is critical they fully understand the consequences of their actions before giving Big Labor bosses the keys to the kingdom. We know they are being promised the world by union organizers, but history proves that bosses - not workers - stand to benefit most from the union relationship.
Fred Wszolek is a spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute.