The United Auto Workers have attempted to unionize the Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga since 2014. The organizing efforts are a pivotal test of the ability of labour to organize in the south (Brooks, 2016). Unfortunately, the efforts of the UAW to organize the VW Chattanooga plant failed due to various reasons. First, the external actors imposed massive intervention on the plant. Second, the union was unable to develop support from the community. Third, a paragraph in the pre-election truce promised wage limit (Fankhauser, 2014). As a result, the fear of the VW management to lose subsidies of the state and the need to include the political establishment and local business went through the card-check process, but it was not negotiable. Next, the management adopted an accommodating position towards unionization for the whole plant. However, its resistance to the small-skilled mechanic division made the company to accept unionization as a measure to end the establishment of a work council instead of a commitment to collective bargaining practice.
What is the current status of unionization efforts in the plant?
Currently, the unionizing efforts of the UAW in the Chattanooga plant are still on course even though the VW has maintained that it will not support the UAW efforts to organize its plant in Chattanooga. This issue has been accompanied by a series of petitions filed by both the AUW and VW. For instance, Volkswagen has joined other major industries and Republican lawmakers in challenging the strategy made by the labour union to organize splinter groups of workers(Kearney & Mareschal, 2014). Right now there is an ongoing petition filled in Washington D.C federal court of appeal by the German automaker's U.S subsidiary seeking to upend a vote by some skilled trade workers to join the AUW in the unionization efforts. According to the Volkswagen Spokesman, Scott Neal Wilson, the firm has an old belief in the rights of all the company's employees to decide the issue of union representation as one group (Silvia, 2017). In contrast, the UAW is continuing to put more pressure on the Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant.
Recently, the majority of workers at Chattanooga VW signed union cards to uphold their stand. According to Gary Castel, a regional director for the UAW, the cards include a statement regarding joining VW's global works council and backing collaborative relations with Volkswagen Company (Felstiner, 2011). In addition, he maintains that the cards are legal documents representing an election by the employees at Chattanooga plant. Despite these efforts, foreign-based automakers have resisted the Union due to what they consider as a burdensome work rule, increased costs and additional years of bureaucracy (Greenhouse, 2014). However, the UAW has denied the claims by perceiving itself as an ally of the automakers because they are trying to enhance productivity.
How and why did the attitude/position of VW change regarding unionization attempts in the plant?
The position of VW regarding attempts of unionization changed with an election where skilled traders and workers at VW's plant in Chattanooga voted so that the UAW could represent them. The vote marked the beginning of the union's victory in the U.S. South where it has unsuccessfully fought many times to organize non-unionized auto plants (Kearney & Mareschal, 2014). This position changed because the UAW collaborated with the German union IG Metall in creating a good relationship with VW since IG Metall has greater power within VW than the UAW has at any primary automaker.
Do you think VW's appeal will be successful - why or why not?
From an individual point of view, the VW's appeal is likely to be unsuccessful because every court of appeal that considers the case under a standard supported by the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) has sided with the Unions. The courts have also endorsed the idea of small bargaining units. In NLRB filings, the automaker has argued that the standard of the agency for reviewing the bargaining unit was vague and hard to implement on a case-by-case basis (Greenhouse, 2014). In addition, the UAW is gaining more support from the Association of Ethical shareholders Germany and the US investment group change to win the case. Therefore, Volkswagen is likely to lose its closely watched case in the presence of the court's decisions.
Why is this effort by the UAW so important to its hopes for growth in the South?
The attempt by the united auto workers is essential to its development expectation in the south because the south has a historic record of low -wage economy where it has been difficult to find and keep good-paying jobs. This issue is due to low union density which has dragged down the wages. Unionizing in these parts will increase the employment rate and wages for the workers, thus boosting the economy.
Political, Economic and Social Factors to Union Opposition in the South
The unionizing process in the South has been challenged by various social, political and economic factors. Politically, the UAW has faced threats and intimidation by partisan leaders predominantly the Republicans who have been against the union agenda. Some Republican politicians have also threatened to withhold tax incentives as long as the plant organizes. Others have also led campaigns against unionizing by plastering anti-union billboards in town (Felstiner, 2011). All these political threats have come into play because it is believed that the UAW does not support the Republicans financially. Socially, the UAW and the employees of the Volkswagen Company have not maintained a stable social relationship through interaction. Economically, reduced wages, low income, and low employment rate have affected the organizing due to low union density.
What are the reasons an anti-union attitude is so prevalent in the South?
There are three significant reasons why the attitude of anti-union is common in the south. The first reason is the southern brand (Brooks, 2016). Simply put, over the years, the South branded itself all over the US and across the global industries as a union-free-zone. In this case, the South has had a history of not unionizing foreign manufacturers in the US except the companies that began as joint ventures such as Toyota plant in Fremont California and former Chrysler-Mitsubishi plant in Illinois (Fankhauser, 2014).
The second reason is external competition. Over the past years, the South has identified itself as the best place to carry out place to conduct business compared to the the Northern and Midwest parts of America. According to Felstiner (2011), this move was true especially when automotive industries considered right to work laws. However, a couple of years ago, Indiana and Michigan decided to become a right to work state (Gould IV, 2013). The Southern states could not use the right to work states as a tool against the Midwest since they were interested in seeing investment go to Mexico and China (Greenhouse, 2014).
Since Volkswagen plant is located outside the town, it has an opportunity to develop another company. Besides, the VW plant grew very fast, and within a short time, its sales had increased (Gould IV, 2013). As such, people from Chattanooga thought that VW would declare its union plan. Instead, VW built an Audi plant in Mexico. It has also announced other Mexican automotive investments. For that reason, the South thought that they had a better advantage to fights against the AUW (Silvia, 2017). Their anti-union prevalence is because of the regional reputation and the actual threat from foreign locations.
Another reason is plain-old-pride. Greenhouse (2014) has noted that the auto industry has been one of the successful companies in the south for more than 30 years. The company has transformed many lives in the region by providing job opportunities at the car plants, building schools and developing the economy. These achievements have made the south to feel that it is union-free. Also, the industries have been the South's evidence that it has highly skilled workers in the manufacturing firm; therefore, they do not need anybody to speak for them.
Which group(s) benefits from this opposition to unions and why/how? Which group(s) is harmed by this opposition and why/how?
The Groups that benefitfrom the opposition to unions include the anti-AUW group and Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA) because they feel that fighting against the unions will protect the companies from a monopolistic relationship with other industries. For example, the anti-AUW group and the VWGoAargue that the union may fruitfully lobby the lawmakersto draft a bill that forces the members to join the union (Kearney & Mareschal, 2014). Suddenly, the union may determine the one to enter the industry. Opposing the union will help these groupsto avoid such situations.
On the other hand, some groups such as National Labour Relations Board, United Auto Workers, the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Federation (AFL-CIO), the United Campus Workers (UCW) and the trade's workers will be harmed by this opposition (Brooks, 2016). It is because it will be hard for the groups to fulfill their objectives of fighting for living wages for the employees and boosting the economy. Besides, opposition to unions will lower the chances of determining the Collective bargaining Agreement of the workers in Chattanooga.
Would union-level wages and benefits provide an economic boost to many of the Southern states that have some of the lowest average incomes in the country - why or why not?
Yes, the union-level wages and benefits will boost the Southern states economies with the lowest average incomes in the nation. It is because raising the wages will stimulate the consumer spending, enhance work productivity, minimize the employee turnover, and absenteeism, thus boosting the economy. With work productivity, the average income of the country may also increase resulting in a corresponding growth of the economy.
Are there other political, social, or economic reasons behind the opposition to unions in the South that you did not discuss above?
No, I have explored all the social, economic and political reasons behind Union resistance in the South.
Finally, do you see anything happening in society today that indicates that attitudes about unions could change in the South in the near future?
In the society today, most workers in various departments have been demonstrating for the Collective bargaining agreement to be signed. This is a reflection of what has been happening by the autoworkers union for the past years. Most of the employees are demanding for a pay rise, pension plan improvement and employment of apprentice after examination. All these happenings indicate that the union attitude has an upper hand of changing in the south. In fact, to increase the chances of implementing the Collective bargaining agreement, the workers must join hands and fight for their rights.
Brooks, C. (2016). Organizing Volkswagen: A Critical Assessment. Journal of Labor and Society, 19(3), 395-417.
Fankhauser, B. C. (2014). Volkswagen Chattanooga and its Battle for Workers' Representation.
Felstiner, A. (2011). Working the crowd: employment and labor law in the crowdsourcing industry. Berkeley J. Emp. & Lab. L, 32(1), 143.
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