Rather than an American manufacturer leading the way, Volkswagen has forged ahead with non-union labor at its busy plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The company has created over 2,700 jobs.
It may sound like a success story, but to the UAW, it’s grounds for action.
“The United Auto Workers union,” The Tennessean reports, “has begun passing out cards to employees of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga to determine whether there is enough support to hold a union representation election.”
Despite the UAW’s fast reflexes, workers at the Chattanooga plant show little sign of discontent with their contractual arrangements:
Some employees said they had seen the cards or were aware of the union’s interest in organizing the plant, but there seems to be no clear consensus on whether there would be enough support to force a union election, much less on whether the UAW could win that vote if it occurred. (The Tennessean, 4/2/12)
The Huffington Post’s David Kiley writes that the outcome of the initiative will be “perhaps the biggest single decider on whether the union ever organizes any of the foreign-brand factories in the U.S.”
Tennessee, moreover, is a right-to-work state. And, Kiley notes, the UAW has already failed to catch on with workers at American plants run by Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Toyota.
It all adds up to a lot on the line for the UAW if they get their foot in the door with Volkswagen. Kiley’s visited several foreign auto plants in the South, including the VW plant in Tennessee. He’s talked “freely” with line workers in “a few cases” — and his takeaway from those conversations ought to give the UAW a great deal to think about.
What I observed is an attitude of gratitude for the work, the opportunity for a career, and the investments in these local areas. It’s a very different atmosphere and attitude than I have observed in northern union plants where you commonly find a lot of third- and fourth-generation union workers who were sold a long time ago on the idea that they could retire at 48 on full pension and benefits, and are frustrated that the game changed on them. (The Huffington Post, 3/23/12)
Gratitude, opportunity, investment; if that’s a game change, it’s hard to see how that’s anything but a change for the better — especially for Volkswagen’s nonunion workers.