UAW Reveals the Deal for VW Recognition in Breakthrough

To match Special Report USA-AUTOS/UNIONNew Orleans    The Chattanooga Choo-Choo is whistling for a big stop at the Detroit headquarters of the United Automobile Workers (UAW). When Glen Miller and his band recorded that song, it was the first million selling record ever and got the first gold record for its popularity. There will soon be a similar celebration at UAW Solidarity House for their first successful organization of a foreign automaker after years of organizing, once Volkswagen honors a previously confidential agreement to recognize the union.

That’s the spoiler alert and a warning that there’s going to be some yahooing on my part of the “I told you so…” and “You heard it first here!” type from yours truly.

In recent days I read a Politico “Morning Shift” bulletin revealing the following:

Volkswagen is expected to change a company policy this week that the United Autoworkers believes will lead to recognition of its local union at a company plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. according to a UAW letter to members of the local. ‘We await details from the company on this policy and will share more thoughts after the announcement,’ the letter said. According to the UAW, the union told the company last spring that it would take certain actions that would help VW bring production of a new SUV to the plant. The UAW also said it would drop a National Labor Relations Board challenge to last February’s failed union vote. According to the UAW letter, VW agreed that if the UAW would take the specified actions, VW would recognize the union.

In earlier reports, we have discussed all of this when the UAW leadership first chartered a local union, Local 42, at the plant and began enrolling members directly in the local in an exciting experiment. More recently the UAW had announced that they had signed up more than 50% of the workforce. The importance of that announcement now becomes clear because the company would not have been able to voluntarily recognize the union unless it could verify a majority expression of support.

We always have to beware of “premature certainty,” but the UAW headquarters would not have authorized the local’s release of a letter to its members without being 100% sure that this deal was done and without a wink-and-a-nod of understanding from VW that they were going to start leaking out the good news so that the members were ready.

And, now for the “I told you so” reward for faithful readers and listeners of the Chief Organizer’s Report. The cognoscenti among you may remember a short six months ago, April 22nd, 2014 to be exact, a report on the UAW’s withdrawal of election objections and my contrarian position that this step indicated a deeper commitment and a likely understanding the company and their union allies in Germany. Here’s what I said then:

Politicians and the in-plant anti-union committee at Volkswagen in Chattanooga were both chortling and celebrating the announcement that the UAW had withdrawn its election objections before the NLRB hearing on the issues raised in its recent, narrow defeat. They are laughing too soon. They are actually totally misreading the organizing tactics, and interpreting a tactical withdrawal as a concession, rather than the more accurate understanding that this is a huge signal from the UAW that they are in fact deepening their commitment to keeping the campaign alive….

I added more fuel to the fire by speculating that the UAW had no doubt been in discussion with the company and their union allies on the board of the German company:

You can also bet that UAW leaders have had extensive discussions with Volkswagen union leaders in Germany, who have board seats in the company, about how a second election would work and how the company would react….

I may have been a little off the mark in believing part of the setup was for a second election, thinking that tactically the union and the company would in fact want one to poke their community opposition politically and in Chattanooga in the eye, but I can understand why they would also want to grab the bird in the hand without taking the risk, even if the rewards might have been greater.

Where I was right on the numbers though was on the quid pro quo with the company, strategically:

The other reason it is easy to read the UAW’s intentions can be found in their statements upon the withdrawal. Shrewdly, they withdrew by laying down the gauntlet to the Tennessee governor and local business establishment to hurry up and restore the $300 million in incentives for VW to locate a new SUV line in Chattanooga which would add another 1000 workers to the mix. This is a win-win for the UAW. It gets them back into the framework of being a job creator rather than a job threat, which had sunk their first vote. If the Governor and the union baiters can’t convince VW to add the line, they are losers, bullies, and blowhards, and the UAW doesn’t have that problem on its shoes. Moving the campaign right now to restore the commitments to add the line also turns the bargaining power from the politicians back to the company and its allies. The UAW is no company union, but any Tennessee politicians have to know that VW is not going to add 1000 workers in Chattanooga without a behind the scenes commitment that the pols and the local chamber will keep out of its employee relations in the plant.

Enough said! The haters and the baiters and the politicians are going to have to grin and bear it, and shut their pie holes this time, because the union is now going to be there to stay in the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The South and the Union will rise again!

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Please enjoy Andrew Mark Schaffer’s Serenity Now.  This song is about suicide prevention.

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UAW Transplants Potential, not Worker Centers, Best News for Organized Labor

bildeNew Orleans  Reports on the closing of the AFL-CIO quadrennial convention in Los Angeles were depressing to me.   Sure, I liked hearing Rich Trumka almost endorse my long standing call for “majority unionism” by saying labor needed “to build a movement not for the 99 percent but of the 99 percent.  Not just the 11 percent we are right now.”   On the other hand I had trouble finding where the beef might be.   Elections of some people, no matter how good, to the Executive Council is a sentence to a elite frequent flyer status and butt calluses, not a prospect for real change for labor.  There’s almost a proportional formula in these situations that the smaller the organization becomes, the more people it elevates to leadership.

            It was wild reading Richard Berman of the so-called Center for Union Facts op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal which was largely an attack on worker centers bereft of virtually any factual basis.  His most convoluted and misleading claim was that the value of worker centers, given their nonprofit status, was that they could picket companies endlessly and “get around” the NLRB requirement that after 30 days, a union’s picketing had to stop or file for an election.  Huh?  Of course he’s talking about the instance when a union might be picketing for recognition to represent the workers.  The “facts” are that a union or any group or individual can picket any company endlessly over grievances and problems in the company.   Berman needs to learn the facts about America and our freedom of association.   Not sure what country he’s talking about, but of course he doesn’t really care about the truth there.   He just wants to take some shots at worker centers in order to make the point that the publicity strikes recently at Walmart and at fast food shops calling for $15 per hour didn’t have many participants.  Who said they did?   They were protests called strikes.  Get over it!

            The most encouraging news from labor this week was from the UAW and its president Bob King, who recently returned from a meeting with Volkswagen officials in Germany where he was seeking recognition.   For the first time the UAW can see potential success in organizing a “transplant” or foreign automaker in the US since they now have a majority of the 2000 workers signed up at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee thanks to a big layoff there that sparked the drive.  The wage differences are of course not the driver.  VW pays $14.50 to start where most UAW auto contracts start at $15.78 and in 4 years go to $19.28, while VW gets past that to $19.50 in 3 years.   UAW success finally in the South would be much more of a game changer for the labor movement than learning how to use Twitter or Facebook.  And, I’m not oblivious to the reality that fast food workers demands for $15 per hour seem hollow when the elite of labor in the auto industry are scratching to get close to $15 themselves.

            To organize still requires putting organizers real boots on the ground, not more press releases and tweets in the air, and it still takes real members and real workers to build a movement, not just a claim to represent.

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