Volkswagen Gets NLRB to Throw Legal Delay into New UAW Organizing Drive at Chattanooga

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Even as Volkswagen keeps saying it’s officially neutral, its bosses convinced the National Labor Relations Board to throw a legal delay into the United Auto Workers’ new organizing drive at its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.

In response, the union has dropped the labor law-breaking – formally called unfair labor practices – charges it filed against VW in an ongoing dispute over whether the company must recognize UAW’s recognition win by Local 42 in the small unit of 160 unionized VW skilled trades workers there.

That withdrawal knocks the props out from under the company’s maneuver, opening the way for a vote among all 1,700 Chattanooga workers, the union told the NLRB on May 9. The board, now dominated by Trump-named members, however, has yet to agree.

On May 3, by a 2-1 party-line vote, the NLRB sided with VW and delayed the vote.

The legal maneuvering marks UAW’s second attempt to organize all the Chattanooga workers in one of only two VW non-union plants worldwide. The other is in China.

UAW’s campaign to unionize Chattanooga, and a similar effort at Nissan’s plant in Mississippi, is part of the union’s drive to break through into foreign “transplant” auto factories in the traditionally and culturally union-hostile South.

In turn, the UAW drive is also part of organized labor’s wider focus on organizing the unorganized in the growing, but anti-union, region. Tennessee was 5.1% unionized and Tennessee was 5.5% unionized last year, federal calculations show.

Both U.S. and foreign automakers have been erecting plants in states of the old Confederacy in barely concealed gambits to avoid unions. And when UAW and other unions try to organize such plants, bosses play off white workers against their African-American colleagues in a time-tested “divide and conquer” campaign.

UAW’s first drive to unionize the whole Chattanooga plant ended in a narrow election loss on Valentine’s Day, 2014, after a multi-million-dollar campaign by right-wing outside lobbies, designed to threaten the workers. News reports indicate the right-wingers are cranking up a rerun.

That anti-union drive was aided and abetted by GOP politicians, including former Gov. Phil Bredesen and then-Sen. Bob Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor. Bredesen and the GOP state legislative majority threatened that if the Chattanooga workers went union, the state would yank planned subsidies and tax breaks for expanding the plant.  The threats worked.

“Let Chattanooga workers vote,” UAW declared in a statement after the NLRB-imposed delay in the election, which was originally scheduled for the end of April. “After insisting for the last four years that they would only agree to a vote of all production and maintenance workers, Volkswagen has now blocked just such a vote. VW’s manipulation of the NLRB process to halt a vote of its workers is a travesty.”

“Free, democratic elections are a cornerstone of American life, whether it’s the PTA or president of the United States. After all these years, why in the world is it OK to deny Chattanooga workers their vote of yes or no?” UAW called VW’s demand for a delay “the definition of duplicity.”

“Chattanooga workers have a simple message to the politicians and political appointees in Washington D.C. and the Volkswagen corporate brass – Let us vote!”

The union also took its campaign overseas again, to VW’s headquarters in Germany. German law requires worker representation on company boards, including VW’s. It uses tough penalties to enforce its labor law and against anti-union firms.

This time, UAW decided to use moral weight too, as union President Gary Jones and other top leaders met with German Catholic Cardinal Reinhard Marx and his staff about the contrast in company conduct towards workers and unions between Germany and the U.S.

Once again, the union said, it was the workers, upset by erratic scheduling and variable work rules, who began the latest organizing drive.

"This was a decision made by the Chattanooga workers," UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, whose staff is unionized with the News Guild. “The members have taken it into their own hands.” Added Local 42 President Steve Cochran: "It's going to be res-pect and consistency. That’s the two big things we want. It's not about money. It's not about greed.'’

The local, by the way, is heavily African-American, as is the Chattanooga plant’s workforce, so its number, 42, honors the late Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier. 42 was Robinson’s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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