Political Dirty Tricks Thwart Effort to Unionize Tennessee VW Plant

Workers in Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee plant rejected unionization by the UAW last week. The vote was surprising given that both the company and a majority of the plant's workers had expressed support for the union in the days leading up to the vote. The main reason for the last minute turn of the tide appears to have been dirty tricks and threats made by Republican politicians, including U.S. Senator Bob Corker.  VW itself did not oppose the union and appeared to be willing to simply recognize the union based on a "card check" (think of it as an informal election) in which the majority or workers indicated support for the move. German companies work much more closely with their workers' unions in Germany. 

Unfortunately here in the U.S. politicians couldn't allow for the unionization of a plant even if BOTH the workers AND the company wanted the arrangement.  In a massive campaign against the union leading up to the vote, Republican politicians threatened to withhold further tax incentives if the plant organized or if VW voluntarily recognized the union. Meanwhile D.C. conservative activist Grover Norquist and other outside groups placed anti-union billboards all over town and churned out UAW-bashing newspaper articles.

Then, on the first day of voting, U.S. Senator Bob Corker openly threatened that Volkswagen would expand its Tennessee plant only if workers voted against their own interests and rejected unionization at the facility. Corker's statements appear to have been false as VW had openly welcomed the union. However, due to the speech protections given to senators in the U.S., there is likely no action that can be taken against the senator's knowingly lying to defeat the vote.

The threats and intimidation apparently worked. Enough workers changed their previous votes and the union election failed 712 to 626. It will be another year (and in reality will likely be much longer) before any efforts to unionize the plant can begin again. In the meantime, plant workers can continue to enjoy the lower wages, substandard benefit packages, and lack of job protection for which non-union manufacturing plants in the U.S. are famous.