Sauerbrei: Support workers' right to vote on union at Volkswagen

Sauerbrei: Support workers' right to vote on union at Volkswagen

May 17th, 2019 by Austin Sauerbrei in Opinion Columns

Austin Sauerbrei is organizer of the Chattanooga Area Labor Council.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress."

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Chattanooga Area Labor Council is a regional coalition of labor unions working together for social and economic justice for all working people in our city. Our affiliate members represent more than 5,000 workers in the Chattanooga area. Our members are the everyday working folks who build your buildings, teach your children, deliver your mail, drive your buses, produce the goods you buy and do the countless other jobs that keep our city running.

Learn More

› What: Rally for Working Families. Laborers, community leaders and working people from across Chattanooga will gather to hear the challenges our communities face in the workplace and celebrate our contributions to the city.

› When: Monday at 5:30 p.m.

› Where: Miller Park sidewalk

› For more info:

We are proud of the work we do and believe that every person deserves fair treatment, safe working conditions and a living wage. We stand in solidarity with the workers at Volkswagen and their call to unionize and gain collective bargaining rights.

As Chattanooga's economy booms, countless working families are being left behind. Too many Chattanooga workers are experiencing the impact of stagnating wages, rising cost of living, full-time jobs being transferred to temp agencies, and lack of recourse for unsafe working conditions. In the face of these challenges, unions have been the primary vehicle for workers to make their voices heard in a unified, principled and organized way.

Fundamentally, unions embody our most basic democratic ideals. Unions bring workers together so that they can have collective representation in the workplace. Federal labor law allows workers to call for a vote on whether they should form a union. If majority of workers vote in favor, a union is established, and the workers gain the right to negotiate hours, pay and working conditions with their employer. The union provides a clear and organized line of communication between workers and employers that can result in a mutually beneficial relationship for everyone.

This form of democratic self-advocacy is one of the most effective means of ensuring a safe work environment and fair pay and has been the source of almost all significant workplace rights we enjoy today. The power of organized labor has given us the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, child labor laws, paid vacation, sick time, holidays, lunch breaks, workers comp, military leave, parental leave and so much more. Among full-time workers today, union members have an average income almost 20% higher than those without a union. We also enjoy more paid holidays and are more likely to have a defined benefit pension plan. Furthermore, we know from history that when our unions are strong, all working people reap the benefit.

Chattanooga has provided generous taxpayer incentives to VW, and in return we want to see a commitment to fair treatment and a safe working environment for Chattanooga workers. This should not be a political issue. VW workers all over the globe are unionized and have gained the right to collectively bargain. If VW values the input and well-being of their employees, they should welcome this opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship rooted in partnership, not antagonism.

Members of the Chattanooga Area Labor Council, including the OPEIU (Local 179), USW (Local 15120), CWA (Local 3802), UCW (Local 3865), SEIU (Local 205), AFM (Local 80), Ironworkers (Local 704), IBEW (Local 175), SMART (Local 5), ATU (Local 1212), IUPAT (District 77), LiUNA (Local 846), Utility Workers (Local 121), IAFF (Local 820), IAMAW (Local 56), and BCTGM (Local 25) proudly stand with VW workers as they seek to exercise their legal right to choose whether to form a union.

We call on our neighbors, co-workers and elected officials to do the same.

Austin Sauerbrei is organizer of the Chattanooga Area Labor Council.

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