Feature

A defeat for Big Labor

Workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga rejected a bid by the United Auto Workers to gain a crucial foothold in the South.

In a stinging defeat for organized labor, workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., last week rejected a bid by the United Auto Workers to gain a crucial foothold in the South. The 712–626 vote came even though VW didn’t oppose the factory’s unionization, which would have allowed the company to introduce the kind of German-style works councils that promote worker-management collaboration in its facilities elsewhere. But Republican public officials in Tennessee strongly opposed the UAW’s effort, arguing that companies and labor flourish best in “right to work” states without unions.

Union organizers simply failed to convince these workers “that their lives would be better with the UAW than without it,” said Tom Walsh in the Detroit Free Press. The VW workers saw no prospects of getting better wages and benefits by paying union dues. That left them vulnerable to the arguments of the state’s top Republican officeholders, Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam, who warned that Tennessee’s growing auto sector would go the way of Detroit if the union prevailed.

This vote underscores Big Labor’s bad reputation, said Peter Morici in RealClearPolitics.com. Many workers in Chattanooga see the UAW as “modern-day carpetbaggers preying on their political freedom.” The union’s support for the Democratic Party, abortion rights, and gun control doomed it to fail in a red state like Tennessee, yet that’s where the jobs are going. To win, unions had better stop preaching about “social causes that have nothing to do with their members’ wages and work environment.”

These workers will be sorry they were swayed by the “surge in anti-union rhetoric” from their politicians, said Teresa Tritch in The New York Times. By voting down the union, they “very likely not only limited their own pay raises, but probably those of their relatives, friends, and neighbors.” The UAW is at least trying to adapt to new economic realities. Tennessee’s Republican leaders, on the other hand, are just backing businesses that don’t want to pay higher wages. “Of course, they didn’t put it that way.”

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