Cooper: 'It's time' union voted down

Cooper: 'It's time' union voted down

June 4th, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Antonio Pinto, former Chief Executive Officer for Volkswagen Chattanooga, speaks during a press conference unveiling the 100,000th Atlas SUV assembled in Chattanooga at the Volkswagen Academy last October.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

Let's see if we've got this straight.

Some workers at Chattanooga's Volkswagen manufacturing plant want to be represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) in jobs it must be assumed they like, but a so-called interest group more or less representing those same workers took out ads in several newspapers last month ripping the company for a corruption probe it was involved in several years ago.

With friends like those, who needs enemies?

Nevertheless, five years after a previous election didn't go their way, union supporters hope a majority of the approximately 1,790 production workers at the plant will vote to give the UAW their backing in a new election June 12-14.

One of the ads, in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, warned VW employees that "you just can't trust Volkswagen's culture of corruption."

It additionally showed the photos of three former VW executives who were implicated in the company's emissions cheating scandal. "Who," the ad asked, "was Volkswagen's most corrupt employee?"

Another ad states: "If VW workers cannot trust VW, they need a contract to force the company to do the right thing."

What the ads did not say was that none of the three executives worked at the Chattanooga plant or that no one at the local plant was involved in the scandal.

That doesn't change anything about the wrongness of what VW did, but it does make the ad pretty hollow where VW workers are concerned.

And since the company was given a $2.8 billion criminal fine for its emissions rigging and said it would spend $18.32 billion to rectify the emissions issue, a drop in the bucket to the total it will spend, we doubt if workers at the local plant need to be concerned about a "culture of corruption" cropping up here.

Nevertheless, Joe DiSano, a Michigan political consultant and UAW member overseeing the organization Center for VW Facts, hopes workers will believe such a thing could happen here.

"It's a question of trust," he said last month. "If [VW] sells faulty vehicles, they're going to lie to the employees."

So what has changed without UAW representing workers since the last election in 2015?

Volkswagen added a new line to its Chattanooga plant that same year and about doubled its workforce. And now the company plans to invest another $800 million to manufacture electric vehicles and add 1,000 more jobs.

That doesn't sound like an employer that doesn't believe in its employees or doesn't have their best interests in mind.

That's why it's curious a group of workers at the plant wants to be represented by the UAW, a labor organization that no matter its promises will always have to answer to national bosses. And those national bosses, despite what excuses they might give other than their own tactics, have overseen the closing of plants and the loss of jobs after their demands exceeded what their employers could pay.

And speaking of a culture of corruption, as ads sponsored by the Center for Union Facts have pointed out, UAW officials themselves have admitted guilt in a federal corruption investigation and union representatives "have ignored workplace abuses."

No one's hands, then, are perfectly clean.

But consider this:

In 2015, Volkswagen, while officially neutral, seemed to favor unionization. Unions represented workers at most of its other plants, workers said the plant made it easy for union representatives to talk to employees, and unionization was what the company's German headquarters desired.

In 2019, though, VW, while officially still neutral, says it has enjoyed a successful "open dialogue" with its workers. "We believe that we can achieve more for the company and our workers by continuing that open dialogue as we have done successfully so far," a statement from Volkswagen Group of America said. "Nevertheless, we respect our workers' right to decide on representation. As a company, and as colleagues, we will respect the decision of our team."

Both pro- and anti-union force have mounted campaigns including workers voicing their interests.

"Without Volkswagen," said one voiced by CB Bitton, a plant team leader, "many of us would either be out of work or at a job with less pay and fewer benefits. It is important this facility thrive, and we can't take a chance on our future by allowing the UAW ... to come into our factory. It is time to send a strong message and reject the UAW yet again."

Pro-UAW ads have workers proclaiming "it's time" for a vote, as if indicating VW or anti-union workers had prevented one. But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had held up any new vote, having yet to rule on the validity of a maintenance workers-only union voted on in 2015. Once the UAW disclaimed the previous vote, the NLRB could dismiss the union request for an April vote and set a new one.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann all have praised the continuation of open (non-union) shops and suggested the continuation of one at VW would be more beneficial to all employees. We believe they're right and hope VW production workers will believe it too.

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