The following op-ed was written by Richard Berman, executive director for the Center for Union Facts, and was published in The Detroit News online edition October 26, 2013, available here online.
The UAW Heads South This Winter
With Michigan becoming the 24th right-to-work state, the United Auto Workers union has now more than ever before been forced to reach its tentacles into the notoriously anti-union South. A Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., is the current target of this Southern campaign. The reasons behind it can be summed up in four words: Black Lake Country Club, in Onaway, Mich.
The resort is the UAW’s luxurious getaway, a grownup’s playground of sorts for the union’s leaders. And without a fresh infusion of dues money from the potential union members in the Chattanooga plant and other presently nonunion auto employees, this playground for the union’s power brokers won’t be able to keep the lights on forever.
Black Lake is a symbol of the UAW’s cash crisis. After decades of membership losses — the UAW’s rolls are down 75 percent since 1980 — the union, like their golf club, needs evermore revenues to keep the good times rolling. The only thing that has kept the union afloat has been its bailout from federal taxpayers of two of the Big Three.
Similarly, the golf club is still standing only because of $39 million in loans from the union. The union is attempting to sell it — but unlike the auto bailouts, they can’t find a buyer (or a taxpayer) willing to pay them what they think it’s worth. Absent that buyer, the only recourse is to recoup the course’s operating costs by drawing on more union dues.
Most of the UAW’s current members have never seen the golf club’s swanky amenities, even though they get a discount to play there. It essentially exists for the benefit of the union’s top officials. Those same union officials are now trying to force the VW Chattanooga plant’s employees to effectively finance this fiasco.
Beyond the golf club, the UAW’s pension plans are under-funded to the tune of $33 billion. Without the new blood from the generally younger employees at Southern auto pants, the gap between the union’s receipts in and payments out will only grow. Combined with its membership crisis, the pension problem may have Motown singing the blues.
The UAW’s dire straits are evident for all to see. But they also put into context the unions’ underhanded strategy to make unionization at the Chattanooga plant a reality. It’s no secret that the union wants to avoid an actual representation election. The UAW’s President, Bob King, is on record as saying that an “election process is more divisive.” He also stated that an actual private vote on whether to unionize isn’t “in the best interests of Tennessee.” Really.
Instead, the UAW is undermining standard democratic procedures to rig the outcome and ensure that they emerge victorious. It’s pressuring VW to abide by the outcome of a process known as a “card check,” which, if VW agrees to it, allows the UAW to bypass elections by having employees publicly sign cards saying they want to join the union and bypass a secret ballot election altogether.
In practice, this is an illegitimate procedure that strips employees of their right to a secret ballot election, while giving the union a greater ability to strong-arm employees into binding agreements.
At least eight of the plant’s employees have already complained that the UAW did exactly that to extract their signatures. Their situation never would have developed if the Employee Rights Act passed Congress. The ERA, which was introduced during the last Congress by Sen. Orrin Hatch ensures that no workplace could be unionized without a guaranteed secret ballot election.
Without such legal protection, however, the affected employees have instead been left to fend for themselves in court. Their own free choice was constrained against their will; now their only hope is for the courts to rule in their favor.
Detroit has witnessed firsthand the long term effects of such union strong-arming. No matter to the UAW, though — money trumps ethics when the choice is being made by organized labor.
Richard Berman is the executive director at the Center for Union Facts, which also operates WorkerCenters.com.