If you have been following the hit political drama “House of Cards” on Netflix, then you have an idea, however dramatized, of the amount of power a union can possess. Luckily, not all unions are that powerful, and one union in particular just took a big blow. Bob King, president of the United Automobile Workers (U.A.W.) has to know that his union is going downhill after last Friday’s vote, which saw Volkswagen workers at the Chattanooga plant voting against joining the union.

The U.A.W. spent months trying to convince workers at the Chattanooga plant and at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Al. to join, but the workers in Chattanooga made it clear that foreign factories, or “transplants”, in the South aren’t very welcoming toward unions. The union leadership is accusing the factory management and Republican politicians for orchestrating the resounding defeat, but it has only itself to blame. Not only did conservatives not strong-arm the workers, but the union failed to present the workers with good reasons to join, instead relying on underhanded labor regulations to try to increase membership.

First, I would like to address the horribly unethical tactics, also known as economically sound arguments, which Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Senator Bob Corker, and State Senator Bo Watson used to sway the workers’ opinions. The governor was ruthless enough to contend that auto parts suppliers would not set up shop in the city if that meant being located near a unionized plant. Corker told workers that VW executives had informed him that a second production line would be added if they didn’t have to deal with the unions. Watson was the only one of the three that actually tried to pressure the workers, telling them that the state legislature was “unlikely to approve further subsidies to VW” if the union won the vote, but subsidies are not guaranteed so the legislature has every right to not support groups that go against its interests. Moreover, far from using intimidation tactics against its workers, VW supported the UAW’s organizing efforts and instituted a gag order on people in management.

Maybe the real reason that the workers voted against unionizing is that the union didn’t have much to offer. Also, the South is primarily anti-union. But let’s not rely on generalizations when we have solid evidence that the workers didn’t need the union. Exhibit A is the $19.50 per hour that the workers are already earning. If you are well paid, why pay union dues? Also, the U.A.W. is known for striking, and the workers did not want to get involved in confrontations. Lastly, many autoworkers blamed the U.A.W.’s combative behavior for the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler. For those who don’t know, the union resisted changes in workplace rules and generous benefits that were causing GM and Chrysler to lose business due to low productivity. This led to hundreds of thousands of workers being laid off and fired, both before and after bankruptcy was filed. The union’s own failures, not Republican Governors and Senators, caused the vote to fail.

I actually find it very ironic that Mr. King is “outraged that [Republicans] in the political arena decided that they were going to threaten workers and that they were going to threaten the company.” Unions are usually the ones using the political arena to intimidate companies and workers. In this particular case in Chattanooga, the unionization was only put up to a vote in the first place due to U.S. labor law requirements that don’t allow corporations to have work councils without unionizing. VW has work councils overseas and considered unionizing here in the States. If it were not for pro-union legislation, the U.A.W. would not have even been considered.

Now, in an attempt to pressure other “transplants” to give into American unionization, the U.A.W. is advocating reforms in federal rules governing representation elections. The proposal to shorten the time between filing for a contest and the actual vote to 25 days would stifle any communications campaigns led by anti-union workers. The unions also want to be able to compel employers to provide rosters of employees’ email addresses among other information. The U.A.W. has nothing to offer, so it is hurling accusations at Republican politicians while simultaneously proposing unfair policies that would allow it to blitz workers at non-union plants and catch them off-guard. I can’t wait to see them fail.

Ondo is a member of 

the class of 2014



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