One of the most contentious union elections of recent times was last February’s vote on whether to allow United Automobile Workers representation at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, assembly plant. Tennessee Republican senator Bob Corker, who was once mayor of Chattanooga, was accused of interference in the vote when he said that Volkswagen had told him that if the union was voted down, the company would build its new mid-size SUV at the Tennessee plant.
Nashville Scene reported in April that documents had come to light suggesting that Tennessee governor Bill Haslam had offered VW $300 million in incentives to build that SUV in Chattanooga, but only if the company would abandon its desire to create a “works council” at the plant. In the end, the unionization vote failed by a narrow margin.
Now, the New York Times is reporting that VW has announced a new policy that will allow labor groups, including the UAW, to represent the Tennessee workers. While this policy isn’t quite what the UAW wanted, which was to be the sole representative of VW’s labor force at the Chattanooga plant, the union is praising the change.
The New York Times says that VW has been under pressure from its German union, IG Metall, to recognize the UAW. Now, under the new policy, any labor group that has the support of at least 45 percent of the Chattanooga employees will be able to meet with the plant’s executive committee every two weeks. Any group with the support of at least 15 percent of employees will be able to have monthly meetings with VW’s human resource officials.
Volkswagen’s policy change is a rejection of GOP pressure
As the Washington Post reported in February, Volkswagen actually wanted their Tennessee workers to have union representation. Almost all VW plants around the world have “works councils,” which are a collaboration between workers and management. Works council members come from both blue and white collar workers. While the union still bargains for salary and benefits for its members, the works council is responsible for things such as plant working conditions. Volkswagen’s global works council leader, Bernard Osterloh, sees the policy of cooperation between employees and management as a competitive advantage for the company.
For his part, Governor Haslam has tried to say that Volkswagen’s policy change is no big deal. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Haslam, and members of his administration, have been in talks with VW about the new policy. Hassle doesn’t consider the policy change to be news.
I don’t think there’s really any new news in this beyond what they [Volkswagen] said before, but we need to let them speak for themselves on this.
This is the bottom line: Tennessee Republicans, who claim to be for freedom, stood in the way of a multi-national corporation that wanted its workers to have a voice in how their workplace is run. That corporation has now moved toward achieving its goal, by allowing union representation even without the support of a majority of its workers.
Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga are the winners, and the losers are Bill Haslam, Bob Corker, and their desire to keep the plantation system alive and well in the south.
Featured image via Auto Beat Insider