From the July-August 2015 issue of News & Letters
Detroit—The United Auto Workers, claiming to represent over 55% of the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., has demanded exclusive bargaining rights for the workers. VW, however, said it will continue to meet with the American Council of Employees, which was established by anti-union forces.
VW provides each union varying privileges depending on its level of representation: representing 15% of the workers, a union can use a meeting room, post literature and meet monthly with management; representing 30%, the union also meets quarterly with a member of the executive committee.
A union representing 45% of the workers also meets every other week with management and the executive committee. The meetings deal with matters of concern to the workers in the plant, but have varying degrees of enforcement based on the degree of representation.
Last year, when the union representation vote was held, the company had actually supported the establishment of a union. Chattanooga was the only VW plant in the world without a Workers Council, which it could have created if the UAW had won. While the UAW expected to easily win, it did not realize how virulent and powerful anti-union sentiment remained in the South. Coupled with support for the opposition from national anti-union forces and state politicians in Tennessee, the UAW lost the election.
This did not deter the UAW, which established Local Union 42 and continued its drive to unionize the plant. This strategy seems to be successful and may be used to organize other foreign-owned plants in the South—a South which has successfully resisted UAW organizing for more than half a century.
There remains another serious question about the strategy of cooperation with management, and how successful that will be. The historic sentiment of the rank-and-file workers is to seek leaders who are fighters. They will be watching closely to see how UAW President Dennis Williams measures up in upcoming contract negotiations.