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Monday, February 24, 2014

Union Appeals Vote At Tennessee VW Plant

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union is appealing the vote that didn’t go its way at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The union has asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to look into the vote that resulted in a close split, 712 to 626, against UAW representation.

The UAW maintains that interference by Republican Sen. Bob Corker and other politicians swayed the vote by saying the plant would get more projects if it voted not to unionize.

Corker responded with a statement on Friday, saying:

The workers at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant spoke very clearly last week, so we are disappointed the UAW is ignoring their decision and has filed this objection. Unfortunately, I have to assume that today’s action may slow down Volkswagen’s final discussions on the new SUV line. This complaint affirms the point many of us have been making: that the UAW is only interested in its own survival and not the interests of the great employees at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen facility nor the company for which they work.

Bob King, president of the UAW, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to make his case.

Interview Highlights: Bob King

On the importance of unionizing foreign auto companies

“In today’s world, whether auto industry jobs are going to be decent middle class jobs depends on the workers in those facilities across this country — and we’re even working on globally — but workers standing together. The only way that auto workers got the pay that they did, the vacations, the retirement, the holidays, the healthcare benefits, was because they used their collective voice… The only way that the American auto industry is going to stay a middle class-creating industry is if workers come together.”

On shrinking union membership

“What’s exciting to me and what’s positive to me is America’s waking up to the tremendous inequality in income and wealth in this country. And more and more people are understanding without a strong labor movement, you don’t have a strong middle class. People understand that when we bargain for better wages or healthcare or vacations or holidays that not only do union members benefit but so do nonunion members because that then became a standard in the community.”

Guest

  • Bob King, president of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, better known as the United Auto Workers. He tweets @UAWPresident.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW. And the United Auto Workers union is appealing the vote that it lost at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, earlier this month. Workers at the plant voted against joining the UAW by a slim margin, 712 to 626. Had the vote passed, it would've been the first steps towards organizing a works council at the plant, that's how Volkswagen's plants in Germany are organized, and it gives workers a voice in management.

It would also have been a big deal for the UAW, which has staked its survival on unionizing foreign-owned auto plants in the South. The UAW has asked the National Labor Relations Board to investigate, contending that interference by Republican Senator Bob Corker and other politicians swayed the vote. Corker had told workers that if they voted no, VW would choose to build a new SUV at the plant.

We're joined now by Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers union. Welcome.

BOB KING: Thank you very much, Jeremy.

HOBSON: So big of a setback for you, for the UAW, was this vote in Chattanooga?

KING: You know, I think it was most importantly a setback for the workers and for workers having a full voice and a setback in some ways for American labor management relationships. What a tremendous opportunity to participate in a works council system, where workers sit down on an equal basis with management on a daily basis, and they work together through the works council on health and safety and productivity and quality.

We're disappointed. We're certainly not giving up. We're going to continue to support the workers in Chattanooga who want representation, who want to be part of the global works council. So it definitely is a setback, but that's what we look at it as.

HOBSON: But you have said that the future of the UAW depends on unionizing these foreign auto plants, across the South especially.

KING: To clarify that, what I would say, in today's world, whether auto industry jobs are going to be decent middle-class jobs depends on the workers in those facilities across this country, and then we're even working globally, but workers standing together.

The only way that auto workers got the pay that they did, the vacations, the retirement, the holidays, the health care benefits, was because they used their collective voice to sit down with management and say, hey, we want our fair share of the success of this company. And we achieved it. And if you've got half the workers making lower wages, or you've got companies that are hiring all temporary or permanent temporaries, I would call them, that hurts every worker in the auto industry.

The only way that the American auto industry is going to stay a middle-class-creating industry is if workers come together and make sure that they help the company to be successful that they work at, but also get their fair share of the success of that company. And that's why the works council opportunity was so exciting in Volkswagen.

I mean, we do that a lot in American labor right now, but this was a step further in that direction of collaboration and working for joint success.

HOBSON: Although many people would say, and have said, and this was one of the big arguments against unionizing the plant in Chattanooga, that giving workers all of those benefits was one of the problems in Detroit, that that's what sunk a couple of the major automakers there.

KING: Well, you know, I don't know if you heard Harley Shaiken. He makes a really important point. Between '06 and 2010, Ford Motor Company I think made $38 billion. And Chrysler, General Motors, had many tremendously successful years with the packages they had negotiated.

What we all did not respond quickly enough to, and I'll take equal credit and equal blame with management, to the foreign competition. And our country, less than any other country, protects their home industries. So we did not respond quickly enough to the competition. But we are today.

And so we're showing that management and labor working together is a critical factor in success, and that's what Volkswagen says; second-largest, most and highest shareholder value-adding auto company in the world says that their success is because they work together through the works councils and in codetermination with the workforce.

That's an exciting opportunity, and we're not going to back away from that. We're going to continue to work to create that opportunity for the Chattanooga workforce.

HOBSON: Well, then, why did they reject it?

KING: You know, you saw a lot of it. There were threats put against Volkswagen as a company, saying we're not going to give you incentives. Senator Corker came out and said if you vote no, I'll guarantee you get a new product. You had all kinds of cultural stuff going on. You had billboards that said the UAW will take away your guns. The UAW members are hunters all over our union. It was so ridiculous.

But people who didn't have other information voted with the wrong information. And I think the fear and intimidation was the worst part of it. But I don't want to discount, either, the kind of cultural attacks, unfair, untrue cultural attacks that they made on the UAW and what we stand for.

HOBSON: Well, you have raised objections about what Senator Corker said before the vote with the National Labor Relations Board.

KING: Absolutely.

HOBSON: What makes you think, though, that you'll win there?

KING: Well, I think there are some early cases. This hasn't happened in a long time. But what the National Labor Relations Act was supposed to do was set up a laboratory condition where workers would decide if they wanted to be - have representation or not and wanted to form their local union or not, and there would not be threats or promises by either side.

Senator Corker and the others who made threats against Volkswagen or making workers believe they wouldn't get the product if they voted for the union, we think that that destroyed the laboratory conditions that the NLRB was set up to provide, and there are some early case law that would support that.

HOBSON: You think that's why people voted against the union?

KING: Well, we had a majority. We had a majority certified by an independent attorney, and it was only - 44 votes would've changed the outcome of the election. So when it's that close, of a workforce of 1,500, I think it's really clear that what Senator Corker did and what others in that state did was wrong, was morally wrong for me, and I think the NLRB will say that it destroyed the conditions for a fair election.

HOBSON: Now if you look at this in the big picture of unions in general, it is not just the UAW that lost a vote here. Union membership, as you know, is much lower today than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago in this country. The UAW is a third of the size it was back in the '70s. Isn't the trend moving against the tide that you're hoping for here?

KING: Well yeah, but you know what? What's exciting to me and what's positive to me is America's waking up to the tremendous inequality in income and wealth in this country. And more and more people are understanding without a strong labor movement, you don't have a strong middle class.

People understand that when we bargain for better wages or health care or vacations or holidays that not only do union members benefit but so do nonunion members because that then became a standard in the community. You look at charts that many different people have done that show as you show less and less workers in unions, you see the middle class sliding downward, that their income gets stagnated, that they lose health care, they don't have the defined benefit pension plans they used to have and even issues, other issues of social metrics.

And what funding is there for schools? How expensive are colleges? As union membership goes down, and there's not as powerful a voice for working people in society in general, the whole society, if you believe in a middle class, you believe in a democracy, it's hurt by the fact that unions are in demise.

And so we're very committed in the UAW and with our sisters and brothers in the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win movement, we're all committed to rebuild the labor movement because we believe in America. We believe in democracy. But we believe in having a middle class. You don't have a middle class or a democracy without a strong union.

Look at Germany. Look at Italy. Look at the places that have turned around and built democracies; in Chile or in Brazil, and look at what's happened to the middle class there. It's growing and expanding, the opposite direction of what's happening here. And a major factor is strong unions in those countries.

HOBSON: Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers union. Mr. King, thanks so much for joining us.

KING: Thank you, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, how important do you think unions are to creating a strong middle class? Let us know at hereandnow.org. You can send us a tweet @hereandnow. I'm @jeremyhobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • loyal listener

    UAW: YOU LOST! The workers were very smart to keep your corrupt union out! Stay in the cess pool of Detroit where you belong.

  • Chococat

    Here’s the question for the UAW: Why do the transplant employees need a union? How are they suffering or otherwise being mistreated? What will a union add to their worklife? What can the union successfully negotiate that the employees don’t already have? The benefit seems one-sided, where the UAW gets dues and the workders get a smaller pay check.

  • onthecoast

    The ideas that unions are bad or corrupt and big business is not, that public pensions are bankrupting governments rather than taxes too low to support a viable community, that teachers are the problem with public schools rather than loss of funding – these misconceptions are all designed to weaken the middle class and keep big business in control. Corporations are not going to pay employees more unless they are forced to do so. They’d rather pay obscene salaries to CEOs and dividends to share-holders who approve those salaries – it’s a rigged system and right now unions are one way to get the middle class back in the game and reduce growing income disparity.

    • Mike

      There are corporations that pay employees well even though they’re not forced to.

      Once in a while, there’s a story that makes the national news (maybe because it’s so rare) of a company that’s very successful. Usually it’s because the company owner treats his employees as equals. He pays them well and gives them responsibility (and authority– that’s important) for their own jobs.

      I used to work for a company like that. It was very successful and a pleasure to work there. Then the CEO (founder of the company) retired. Conventional managers took over, and started to take back control over workers. Management/labor became adversarial rather than collaborative. Gradually the company almost went out of business.

  • Mike

    I think, just as management is organized, workers should be equally organized, to avoid economic stagnation.

    The problem happens when one or the other becomes much stronger. Then there’s no check and balance. Just like management can demand too much pay, labor can demand too much as well. Either side can price the whole business off the market. Then, everybody loses: no jobs, no products to buy.

    I think the best time for the US was the 1950′s, when most people were middle class. Most everyone had skin in the game and could keep up. Today, we’re going to a 2 class society: wealthy class, who have no motivation to work (because they already have everything), and the lower middle class who also have no motive to work (because working doesn’t get them anything). Does that sound like the old Soviet Union, or Victorian England?

  • ChattanoogaProud

    I can appreciate Mr. King’s upbeat perspective, but why is he and his union relying on the same old ally of the NLRB to come looking for a problem where one doesn’t exist? The debate surrounding the vote was comprehensive & thorough on both sides and the voting process fair, square and secret! Mr. King is quick to blame Senator Corker and other TN state/local politicians for interfering, but it was Senator Corker (then Mayor Corker) and several other local politicians who were instrumental in wooing VW to Chattanooga in the first place. In addition, some of the most compelling arguments against the union were made by plant workers themselves to their coworkers, including that the union really didn’t represent their TN and southern values and that they are paid several $$ more per hour than their GM, Ford, Chrysler counterparts. The union wasn’t needed to achieve the higher wages. Lastly, the plant workers are some of the best in the region and Chattanoogans and Tennesseans are thrilled to have VW here. However, the locals are and always will be fiercely independent, opinionated and unique in their perspective of national events. I celebrate that fact. So too should Mr. King and the UAW!

    • Talkischeap

      VW workers are paid more because they already benefit from union wages? So in fact they are using the blood sweat and tears of many laborers before them and ignorantly taking the check everyone else fought for to the bank. It is disrespectful to the men and women before you to not acknowledge the food you eat and the home you live in had a great human sacrifice from the labor movement. VW still has a labor council (union) and does through all of their facilities, TN was aware of this before the plant was moved there, and now they are not expanding or building a new SUV as promised by a TN politician.

  • bobsr

    My view is it is the wrong industry and the wrong Union. The REAL DISASTER to the middle class and wages is with big box retailers, fast foods, and many other companies who have reduced “full time” hours from 40 to 30,under the guise of “best practices” and thereby replacing those worker hours with both part time, no benefit employees, AND using middle “management” to work 60-70 hours with no additional pay to “pick up the slack.”

    These same workers have no say in how their salary reviews go (NO ONE EVER gets above a four out of six, for example, no matter how good you are.) Everyone is cross trained to clean toilets, break rooms, be a cashier, unload trucks, and merchandise the stock on the retail floor. SAFETY is an issue with reduced hours so warehouse floors are full of litter (no one there to run the baler ET AL). Sound like a Mom and Pop Store? No, its a 16 billion dollar retailer.

    These millions of workers have NO ONE to represent them for ANYTHING related to their work rules, hours, pay, ratings, benefits, retirement plans, etc. Older workers will reach the “top of their catagory” and get maybe a 20 cent raise on a pay of perhaps $14– an hour. For most employees, their raises have not even covered their increased costs for their medical plans for the last 5 plus years.

    We had 12 year old kids “doffing bobbins” in New Egland Textile Mills 100 years ago, and terrible working conditions in many industries. Read your History. Unions had a place to help get workers a piece of the pie and develop a middle class. As Henry Ford figured out, when he paid his workers $5 a day because he said if no workers can afford my cars, there is no work!

    Unions have a well deserved reputation for terrible managemet, gross misconduct with union dues, ET AL. But my view is there is a place for an HONEST UNION for retail and other workers. But is that an Oxy Moron?

    Prove us wrong. Start selling the benefits a UNION can BRING to the current downtrodden. With some of these wages scales and no chances for increases or opportunitites, Obama will soon make it more financially viable NOT TO WORK and just stay at home. It’s already hapening. Most of these large conmpanies make HUGE PROFITS, but will soon not have enough customers left to afford most of what they have to sell!

    It’s more than just increasing the minimum wage. Workers have to find a way to be treated more fairly and to qestion some of the decisions management makes about their benefits, safety, retirements, medical care programs, ET AL. For too many workers, and perhaps a majority of Americans, sadly, we “don’t do very well”
    underatanding these complex subjects. The reason why is a whole different subject…

    As a small business owner, I have been against Unions most of my life. But I also
    picked up 100% of the medical costs for all employees with the best BC/BS plan
    available at the time. But I always thought that was my obligation as an employer
    and the right thing to do. But I guess no one does that anymore. Very sad…

  • liser

    Unions don’t destroy companies. CEO’s do. Yet, even though they make poor choices (like making big SUV’s, trucks, and cars that are gas guzzlers when gas prices are rising, or poorly made vehicles that are constantly breaking down and in for service) they make millions. When they get fired for their poor choices, they get millions more due to the contract THEY have. They are then replaced by another idiot who does the same thing, until they are practically out of business. When they reach this point, the CEO’s turn around and say they are paying the workers too much, they have too many benefits, etc., and blame the union for their troubles. Now that they have rather successfully demonized unions, cut pay, reduced benefits, they are making cars that are safe, have a good service record, and better MPG…and what do you know? They are profitable again. This is NOT a result of a place being unionized or not. It’s a result of the decisions made at the top. It’s simple, if you just pay attention. If you are simply programmed to hate unions, without looking into why they were formed, and what they accomplished, you are playing right into the hands of the people who are rewarded for taking fair pay, decent working conditions, etc away from us.

  • Cacimo

    Mr. King claims to support democracy, yet refuses to accept the vote results. If they force another vote I would not be surprised to see the unions vote total drop.

    • Mike

      They voted in Russia, too. Putin won. Why don’t we just believe it.

  • optimus Trajan

    I’m curious as to whether unions ever make the point to all the low wage workers working for huge corporations that their sports heroes in the MCLAREN and other sports who make millions (not low wages) still find it very necessary to be represented by unions…who says these jocks are so dumb after all…

    • optimus Trajan

      MCLAREN is a “smart” phone typo…I meant NFL!

  • Frog

    Maybe if the UAW just worked on employee contracts instead of getting into politics they would have more luck. It might help too if they quit spending union funds on golfing resorts that benefit mostly the top UAW echelon. (the top 1% ??)

    http://blacklakegolf.com/

    “The course is owned by the UAW..”

    • Mike

      Hey, it works for corporate executives. The union executives are just copying a strategy that appears to work.

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