Hourly workers in
narrowly voted to
reject the UAW’s bid to unionize their Volkswagen plant. The union organizing
drive was backed by the UAW, VW’s German
union, IG Metal, and the VW board of directors. The UAW’s goal was to bolster
declining UAW membership and to slow the flight of automobile manufacturing to
right-to-work states. Chattanooga,
mighty IG Metal aided the organizing drive to protect VW jobs in
under the guise of labor solidarity with their American brethren.
The UAW’s drive to unionize
automotive manufacturing plants in the South and Midwest
serves as a bell weather for organized labor’s prospects of gaining a union
foothold in right-to-work states. The election has been closely watched by
other foreign auto manufacturers, who have located in the South and Midwest to
take advantage of lower labor costs and the U.S. market.
The VW vote indicates that auto workers in right-to-work states understand that the support of a foreign union to unionize their shop was a defensive move to limit outsourcing to lower-labor-cost parts of the world located in major consumer markets. The UAW’s
Detroit model also appears to have taught
autoworkers in right-to-work states to prefer an actual job that pays less than
in unionized plants to no job at all.
The IG Metal-UAW debacle in
Tennessee adds to the list of organized
labor failures at a time when it has a lock on the National Labor Relations
Board under the Obama administration. Other bitter defeats include Michigan becoming a right-to-work state in 2012 and
Boeing machinists caving to the threat of locating a major assembly plant
expansion in South Carolina.
Increasingly, economic conditions in right-to-work plants are dictating terms
of work and pay in unionized plants. As unionized workers understand the growing
impotence of union representation, the unionized labor force in private
industry will continue its shrinkage towards zero, leaving only the besieged
public sector unions.