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Workers may face tough choice with UAW interest in Chattanooga VW plant

By   /   April 5, 2013  /   Comments Off

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

CHATTANOOGA — If you’re an hourly employee at Chattanooga’s five-year-old Volkswagen plant brace yourself for a vote on whether to join the United Auto Workers union.

Since Tennessee is a right-to-work state no one can fire you for not joining the UAW and paying union dues, but you may give up some employment control if you don’t participate.

Patrick Semmons, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, describes those dangers.   Volkswagen

“You will still be subject to any contract that the UAW agrees to. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the contract or if you vote against the union or get a better deal on your own absent what the UAW is negotiating. You are stuck with it, no matter what. If you exercise your right to work you lose your ability to have even a limited say in the kind of contract that you will be subjected to,” Semmons told Tennessee Watchdog.

Representatives from both the UAW and the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant confirmed they are talking with one another, but wouldn’t provide additional comment to Tennessee Watchdog.

The UAW would have a presence at a foreign-owned automobile manufacturing plant for the first time in more than 20 years if its efforts in Chattanooga are successful.

UAW representatives are acting methodically in their approach for two important reasons, Semmons said.

“The UAW hasn’t hidden the fact that it’s looking to unionize other plants. GM,Chrysler, and Ford are pretty much 100 percent in already, so all that’s really left are the foreign automakers, particularly those in the South and the right-to-work states.”

Semmons’ organization, a non-profit with a stated mission of eliminating what it calls coercive union power, is offering free legal assistance to VW employees in Chattanooga who might not wish to join the UAW.

“This is not the traditional case of the workers on the shop floor getting together and saying ‘Hey, we want a union’ and then they go and organize one. This is the union from a distance up in Michigan negotiating with a company in Germany about what is going to the shop floor in Chattanooga,” Semmons said.

“If employees want the right to work and cut off dues they are going to then lose their ability to vote for whomever their representatives are on whatever panels or negotiating committee or anything else that’s taken place. It’s really an unusual system that’s being proposed.”

In a statement, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said VW’s 3,100 employees have to decide on their own whether to join the UAW, but he worries that the union’s presence might hurt output.

Dan Ikenson

Dan Ikenson

“I’ve talked to a number of employees in Chattanooga, and they are very comfortable with the way things are now. Volkswagen continues to be incredibly successful with the current structure. I would hate for anything to happen that would hurt the productivity of the plant or to deter investment in Chattanooga.”

Dan Ikenson, an associate director with the Cato Institute, told Tennessee Watchdog that Haslam’s fears aren’t unfounded.

“It would be mind boggling to me that people in Tennessee would think that the UAW would represent their interests and get them better working conditions or better salaries. The history is that UAW’s actions elsewhere have reduced the bottom line. The spoils to be distributed to the workers are a lot smaller. I hope that the efforts are resisted,” Ikenson said.

Semmons said any VW employees who wish to have free legal assistance may call his organization at 800-336-3600 or visit its website.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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