Dycus: Let VW workers make up their own minds

Dycus: Let VW workers make up their own minds

June 10th, 2019 by Billy Dycus in Opinion Columns

Staff file photo by Erin O. Smith / Volkswagen employees work around vehicles moving down the assembly line at the assembly plant in Chattanooga in this file photo.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

"Don't be a busybody."

Many of us learn this simple phrase as children. We are taught that it is impolite to meddle in other people's business or stick our noses in places where they do not belong.

Unfortunately, several prominent Tennesseans seems to have forgotten both that lesson and, in turn, their manners.

In just a couple of days, all eyes will be on the Scenic City as Volkswagen workers decide whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers.

It's been a long, hard and difficult road to get to this point.

Back in 2014, the UAW narrowly lost its first election at the plant by fewer than 100 votes.

The following year, the union successfully organized a group of maintenance workers. Despite its profession of neutrality in the past, Volkswagen refused to come to bargaining table.

Now, another election is upon us. Is it possible that the third time will be the charm?

Regardless of the outcome, the decision itself rests with one group: the workers, many of whom have been bombarded with information from both pro- and anti-union groups.

This is normal and completely expected in an election environment.

What's not normal is the various Tennessee politicians who are coming out of the woodwork to voice their opposition to the UAW and its presence at Volkswagen, inserting themselves into a situation in which they have no business.

This is not the first time that this has happened.

Back in 2014, former Gov. Bill Haslam and then-Sen. Bob Corker made countless headlines in the weeks leading up to the first election at Volkswagen because of their deliberate attempts to influence the eventual outcome.

Now, Gov. Bill Lee is following in their infamous footsteps.

Back in April, Lee paid a visit to the Volkswagen plant. Curiously, local media supposedly did not know about the event. Yet a secret recording of the governor's remarks paint a picture of yet-another politician not-so-subtly urging workers to vote against union representation.

During another stop in Chattanooga late last month, Lee claimed that states with higher levels of organized labor have a difficult time attracting new businesses.

This is blatantly false. In the labor movement, we make it a priority to collaborate with the companies we work with to ensure that we retain a competitive edge. At General Motors' Spring Hill plant, for example, the UAW and the company have worked together to make it one of the best in the country.

It's amazing what gets accomplished on behalf of workers when labor and business actually sit down and talk, rather than standing on opposite sides of a room, waiting for the other party to blink first.

Another Tennessee politician who is all too quick to share her thoughts on a subject in which she has no expertise is Corker's successor, Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

Not too long ago, she bragged, "We don't need union bosses in Detroit telling Tennessee what's best for our workers."

With all due respect, Sen. Blackburn, we don't need you telling Tennessee workers what's best for them.

Failing to provide any clear examples, she went on to claim that workers would be "harmed" by any attempts to organize at the plant.

This kind of outside interference by politicians in an issue that does not concern them is both unnecessary and dangerous.

Plant employees and all Tennesseans would be much better served if our elected officials stuck to the business of politicking and stayed out of meddling in the upcoming election.

You can best serve your constituents by doing one simple thing: letting the employees at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant make up their own minds and vote.

Billy Dycus is the president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council and a proud member of the United Steelworkers for more than 20 years.


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