News Column

Tenn. UAW Vote Could Have Big Implications

February 14, 2014

UPI Business News

vw passat
2014 VW Passat (Volkswagen)

Union leaders and Tennessee state politicians have staked out positions on Friday's vote at a Volkswagen plant that many say could be a talisman for unions.

"This is enormously important for the labor movement as a whole," said AFL-CIO policy director Damon Silvers, referring to a vote that could allow the United Auto Workers to represent assembly workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

"The European transplants are a puzzle that the American labor movement has been trying to work out for decades, and the United Auto Workers seems to have figured out," Silvers said.

The Washington Post reported Friday it has been nearly 30 years since UAW has won a vote to represent workers at a plant owned by a foreign carmaker.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga and a Republican, has staked out his position, a party-oriented stance that says unions are not good for business.

"There's no question that the UAW organizing there will have an effect on our community's ability to continue to recruit businesses," Corker said.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has made similar claims, saying a union would send the wrong message to businesses considering opening facilities in the state.

"Right now, because the Democrats are not very effective competitors in most of the state legislative races, most legislators' concern comes from the right, not from the middle or the left," said Vanderbilt University political science professor John Geer.

"They don't want to give a potential primary opponent an issue, so they're going to play pretty hardball to keep that from happening," Geer said.

Republican state Sen. Bo Watson said the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, would not look favorably on Volkswagen when it came time to approve tax incentives that are frequently used to lure manufacturers to a state or offset expansion costs, provided the expansion involves new jobs.

Contrary to most union incursions, however, Volkswagen is backing the UAW, as it is promoting a management style that includes a works council with union representation that helps make decisions on operations and the work environment.

UAW Southern Region director Gary Casteel said the vote is actually a vote for change.

"We're actively trying to produce this new model of representation. So if we're successful, it should show employers that we're willing to work with the systems that are important to them. This is important to VW. The UAW has no experience with a works council. But we're willing to develop some," he said.

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Original headline: Union vote in Tennessee has big implications


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