Unions Retooling Strategy After Volkswagen Defeat

Monday, 17 Feb 2014 11:59 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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Union leaders are looking inward after a staggering United Auto Workers defeat at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant last week, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Labor leaders are gathering in Houston to brainstorm strategy for the coming year. Friday’s defeat at the Chattanooga, Tenn. Volkswagen facility -- by a vote of 712 to 626 -- is illustrative of “labor’s profound weakness in America,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

“The defeat creates an enormous obstacle to labor’s ambition to organize at other foreign-owned auto plants in the South,” Businessweek reports.

Angry Union leaders are blaming Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker and other Republican politicians for the vote.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam had warned that unionization would keep auto part suppliers from locating in the Chattanooga area and Corker announced that Volkswagen executives told him the plant would add a new production line – SUVs – if the workers rejected the U.A.W., adding that a union victory would hurt workers’ living standards, according to The New York Times.

Tennessee Sen. Bo Watson further warned that the state legislature, controlled by the GOP, was “unlikely to approve further subsidies to Volkswagen if the workers embraced the U.A.W.”

“The loss is an especially stinging blow for U.A.W. because Volkswagen did not even oppose the unionization drive,” The Times writes. “The union’s defeat — in what was one of the most closely watched unionization votes in decades — is expected to slow, perhaps stymie, the union’s long-term plans to organize other auto plants in the South.”

Labor leaders are focusing their efforts on the south, which has been historically anti-union, according to The Washington Post.

“After years of discouraging losses, the UAW had staked its Southern strategy on winning this one and blamed threats and intimidation by politically motivated third parties for turning the tide against them,” according to the Post.

One labor expert told the Post that the UAW in particular faces an uphill battle for autoworkers who may have been left with a negative impression of the group following Detroit’s bankruptcy last year.

“The public image of the autoworkers is very negative,” Kristin Dzickek, a labor specialist at the Center for Automotive Research, told the newspaper. “But if you think of the public image of UPS drivers, nurses, people you interact with in day-to-day jobs who may also be union members, they’re not seen as thugs. I don’t think anyone sees their UPS driver as a thug, even though some of them make more than autoworkers do. There’s not that same kind of attack on unionization in other sectors.”

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