A Union Vote With The Company’s Blessing … Fails

Over the weekend, workers at the Chattanooga VW plant decided against joining the UAW, in a narrow 53/47 vote. (The Dish rounded up pre-vote analysis here.) Rich Yeselson, who predicted the split perfectly, explains why the vote failed:

Because most workers weren’t particularly looking for a union to address problems they didn’t believe they had with the company in the first place — because VW was drafted into a cooperative relationship by the UAW, rather than seen as an galvanizing adversary — they didn’t think that the (literally) foreign concept of works council presented much of value proposition for them that would be worth one to two percent of their income in dues payments. As the very shrewd labor historian Erik Loomis wrote, in a sharp campaign post-mortem, “the usual union victory results from dissatisfied workers organizing with demands. That really wasn’t the case here.”

Rich Lowry blames the UAW’s political machinations:

After the UAW did so much to chase automaking out of Detroit with unsustainable labor costs and ridiculous work rules, it is no wonder that workforces haven’t welcomed it into the South, where right-to-work states have become alluring destinations for foreign car companies.

For the longest time, the business model of the UAW has been to take its members’ dues and funnel them to friendly Democratic politicians. Unless it breaks into the South, the union knows it’s all but doomed. It may feel this institutional imperative keenly, but workers in good manufacturing jobs who owe nothing to this self-serving dinosaur from the 20th century don’t. They can be forgiven for wondering which side the union is on.

DePillis disputes some of the anti-UAW campaigners’ claims about unions:

Are unionized companies now less productive than their non-union competitors? Well, that might have been the case through the mid-2000s, as the Detroit Three’s workforces aged and the cost of generous pensions mounted (and the companies weren’t doing themselves any favors, having misjudged the market for lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles). But according to data gathered by Oliver Wyman analyst Ron Harbour, the American automakers had nearly caught up to Toyota and the rest by 2008 through lean production processes and buyouts of older workers. Restructuring, a new product mix, and revived demand got them the rest of the way there; Michigan plants are now by and large running at peak capacity.

Kilgore calls the interference of GOP politicians a “travesty”:

I’m a little rusty on my labor law, but I’m reasonably sure that any employer who issued the sorts of threats made by Republican politicians in Tennessee (including Sen. Bob Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam, and a variety of state legislators, backed by national conservative figures like Grove Norquist) against a unionization effort would have been in blatant violation of the NLRA. … So addicted are Tennessee Republicans to the “race to the bottom” approach to economic development that they are willing to risk the good will of an existing employer in their zeal to make sure their own people are kept in as submissive a position as possible.

But Edward Niedermeyer pushes back against the liberal narrative that the vote was the result of “a right-wing movement to destroy worker representation”:

The Chattanooga rejection of the UAW was exactly that: the rejection of a single union that failed to make a persuasive case to the Tennessee workers and, despite profiting immensely from the Federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, is in dire straits after deciding to reward long-time members at the expense of new backers. In fact, the 712-626 vote can be seen as showing solid support for worker representation and for a German-style “works council” that VW management, too, backs. Rather, what what shot down was mandatory unionization as a prerequisite for those works councils — something the UAW insists is required under the federal labor law.