United Auto Workers President Bob King and other union organizers spent two years attempting to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. Management allowed them access to the plant and remained virtually neutral. Unionizing the Volkswagen plant was UAW’s best opportunity to expand its membership in the U.S. South. However, the auto-union’s investment of time and money faced overwhelming rebuke this week when 89 percent of eligible workers voted 712 to 626 against forming a union shop.
For decades, UAW membership has declined substantially, plummeting 75 percent since 1979. However, Chattanooga was a promising venture because UAW, unlike most manufacturers these days, had invited union bosses in and worked out an agreement with them. It was anti-union sentiment in the right-to-work state that proved stronger than any agreement. At the crux of the anti-union vote was a new seven-passenger crossover vehicle that will be produced either in Chattanooga or in Mexico; reportedly, a decision could come as early as next week according to a Reuters report out Saturday.
"Needless to say, I am thrilled," Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker said in a statement after the vote.
Meanwhile National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix offered the verbal equivalent of a fist pump. "If UAW union officials cannot win when the odds are so stacked in their favor, perhaps they should re-evaluate the product they are selling to workers," he said.
On the other hand, King complained about incentives offered by politicians, characterizing them as a threatening. "We are outraged at the outside interference in this election. It's never happened in this country before that a U.S. senator, a governor, a leader of the house, a leader of the legislature here threatened the company with those incentives, threatened workers with the loss of product," Bob King, the UAW president who has staked his legacy on expanding into the south, said.
Proponents argue that the incentives are about convincing Volkswagen to expand and hire more workers in the region instead of manufacturing their SUV product in Mexico. States and local governments routinely offer incentives to companies in order to woo manufacturing jobs.
Union membership in the U.S. has been in decline for decades as U.S. firms face growing competition from abroad. Adding to union woes, bloated pension plans and costly health care programs for retired workers are forcing U.S. companies offshore where labor costs are more in line with global market forces.
Recently, Boeing’s machinist union agreed to freeze their retirement programs if the behemoth aircraft company would assemble the 777X, its composite wing and other major parts in Seattle. Boeing, like Volkswagen, is competing for business in a global market where steep discounts are cutting deep in to profits. Boeing revealed plans to open a new plant in a southern right-to-work state should its machinist union fail to come to an agreement.