New Orleans The UAW, confounding the old schoolers and the pundits, continues to plow new, but familiar, ground in seeking to bargain a “members’ only” agreement at the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant employing 1500 workers and expanding rapidly. Gary Casteel, the UAW’s Secretary-Treasurer announced that the newly chartered UAW Local 42 at the plant had reached 750 members, a 50% benchmark, and has asked management to bargain an agreement for those workers. The company has not responded currently to this latest development, but after a quick two-month recruitment campaign and its earlier public remarks, there is little doubt that it will negotiate something with the UAW, which would be a breakthrough.
It would not be a breakthrough in terms of being innovative, unique, or even novel except in the “we are the world” perverse perspective of USA labor relations. Such members only, even multiple union, relationships with companies is common around the world in many countries like India, the United Kingdom, Nicaragua, and countless other countries where unions and labor laws provide thresholds and regulations for winning representation rights as distinguished from exclusive bargaining rights, which is currently the norm under modern interpretations of the National Labor Relations Act. In the early days of the Act “member’s only” representation and multiple union bargaining was the norm. It still is in many public sector agreements in the United States and has been for decades. Exclusivity’s main advantage is that it pushes away the competition from other organizations and makes life somewhat more straightforward, though not necessarily better, for employers since there is only one union they have to deal with. Workers may or may not be in better shape, and we could debate that for days.
What we cannot debate is that the current UAW strategy of taking the half of loaf they can win now for their members is much, much better than walking away without a slice, which most old school unions would do. They stand closer to the prize, which is winning rights to represent the whole workforce in coming years, and cracking the anti-union foreign automaker transplants in the south. Patience and persistence will win them more and more.
The CWA victory after decades to represent 15000 reservation agents at American Airlines in an alliance with the Teamsters in a slam dunk election victory where they polled more than 80% recently is an excellent example of the victories that can be won by continued, committed organizing. On the other hand reading about SEIU’s strategy to organize fast food workers where the big companies are going to suddenly sit down and meet with the union and bargain, sounds like magical realism. The SEIU has won with patience and persistence before, but seem to still be trying to sort out whether or not they are willing to pay the dues and do the time. Walmart is a case study in not succumbing to magic, but also cries out for a deep, long term strategy.
The UAW might be forging the new path for the future, as it did in the past, and doing so in more ways than one.
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