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GOP right-wingers outflanked the UAW in Tennessee

Auto workers for Volkswagen conceded defeat to the GOP allegedly because of threats from radical right wing activists.
Auto workers for Volkswagen conceded defeat to the GOP allegedly because of threats from radical right wing activists.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Although it occurred back in February, the vote by Volkswagen (VW) workers not to unionize under the United Auto Workers (UAW) is worth a second look. It is becoming abundantly clear now that the vote stemmed from intimidation and threats aimed at the VW auto workers rather than from an inherent desire among auto workers not to unionize. GOP (Grand Old Party - Republicans) operatives, according to ABC News on February 9, implied that they would "punish" the VW company if it allowed workers to unionize, or even would shut the VW plant down altogether. Consequently, workers felt threatened by the prospect of losing their jobs altogether and voted not to unionize under the auspices of the United Auto Workers.

According to some observers, the UAW had weakened its own credibility by negotiating wages for beginning auto workers that are lower than are the wages for the same employees at VW. Allegedly UAW negotiators had promised not to take any actions that would result in VW losing its competitive edge. According to some, this credibility loss for the UAW may have been a contributing factor in the workers' decision not to unionize under the UAW umbrella.

One such worker, Mike Elk, told interviewers that while he was not "anti-union," he was "anti-UAW." Mike Jarvis, an anti-UAW VW employee, was able to sway the undecided by showing them a copy of the UAW's "neutrality deal" with VW in which the UAW promises not to interfere with VW's "competitive advantage." In that agreement, the UAW promises that future agreements with VW will entail considerations that include:

“...maintaining and where possible enhancing the cost advantages and other competitive advantages that VWGOA enjoys."

As part of the compromise agreement with the UAW, VW promised not to fight unionization per se; but the vote among workers at VW not to unionize under the UAW mitigated that agreement. In essence, the consummate result is that although VW has agreed not to oppose unionization "in principle," the VW workers nevertheless are not unionized under the UAW due to many factors: intimidation and threats from radical GOP activists, fear that the company will cease to exist if they unionize because of punishment from the GOP, and compromises from the UAW itself that appear to be too conciliatory to the majority of VW workers. The fact that beginning UAW workers make less than the non-union VW workers also played a significant role in the workers' votes.

In this commentator's opinion, the workers should have voted to unionize under the UAW despite the lower beginning wages and the UAW's appearance as being too conciliatory. All of these agreements between unions and employers are fluid, constantly changing and subjected to constant review and revision. If the workers had voted for UAW membership, they would have had a union. It may have been a union that needed a lot of changes and modifications in its manner of making agreements, but at least the workers would have had a union representing them and watching out for their interests. Right now the advantages of remaining non-union may be attractive, but it is highly doubtful that VW workers in the long run will be better off than comparable workers for other auto manufacturers who are under the UAW, even with its frailties.

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