National Security: UAW

Last week, a vote was held among the workforce at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga on whether or not to organize under the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. Turnout was high – 89 percent voted and decided by a 53 to 47 margin not to organize the factory. This was an important decision with wide-reaching implications. In the last quarter century, foreign auto manufacturers have built nearly all of their new facilities in the southeast, now 11 plants in seven states including such names as Toyota, Mercedes and BMW. They’re non-union. None of these new factories have been built in Florida, but we have other advantages that have contributed to population growth and employment. A major attraction of building a new manufacturing facility in the southeast is that all of these states are right-to-work rather than closed-shop. The issue at play is the requirement to join the union in order to work: right-to-work means that union membership is not mandatory; closed shop means that in order to work, you must join the union and dues are garnished from your wages just like taxes. The south and another dozen or so heartland states are protected by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act as right-to-work. This is a major advantage for these states when they look to attract new businesses and employers under economic development. Put another way, non-right-to work states like those in the northeast, midwest, and west coast are at a competitive disadvantage. A case can be made for closed-shop rules when you consider the idea of collective bargaining – when the entire workforce benefits from increased pay and benefits, why shouldn’t they support the union that bargains on their behalf. On the other hand, there is the powerful argument for ‘freedom of choice’ which is denied under closed-shop rules. Generally, businesses would rather not have to deal with a labor union. There’s a lot of cost and headaches that come with union representation. Modern business theory states that if you include such things as an employee council, workforce ideas, and profit sharing, unions are superfluous. Union dues can get expensive for the worker, costing thousands of dollars from their paycheck. There’s also the pesky problem of political activity done by union leadership. An overwhelming (well above 90 percent) of organized labor political contributions go to Democrats and liberal causes and the UAW is especially one-sided. Workers frequently find that political contributions made by their leadership go to candidates and causes they do not support. It seems as if the union leadership is “feathering its own nest.” It’s interesting to me that the vote in Chattanooga was driven by Volkswagen workers in their home country where labor unions are much more common. But what works for Germany isn’t necessarily right for Tennessee; the work culture of one doesn’t translate to the other. The vote at Volkswagen/Chattanooga attracted a lot of lobbying. Pro-union organizers from the Midwest came to the plant to present their side of the argument and southern politicians like Senator (and former Chattanooga mayor) Bob Corker argued against the union. In the end, the people most affected made their choice. I saw the same thing at a Jacksonville call center twenty years ago where Communication Workers of America (CWA) attempted to organize a workforce of 1700. Management pulled out all the stops to oppose the idea and when the votes were tallied, CWA lost. Organized labor has been losing membership in the private sector by the droves (35 percent six decades ago versus six percent today) and the Chattanooga/Volkswagen vote is another nail in the coffin. Where they have been gaining strength is in the public sector until Republican governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker began to challenge them. In theory, I’m not opposed to private sector labor unions where workers have every right to share in profits, but by definition, there is no profit in the public sector. When public sector unions bargain for higher wages and benefits, what they are really saying is that they want to see taxes raised. Did you know that it is against the law for federal workers to collectively bargain for increased wages and benefits? Then why can state and local workers do this? If you look back a century or more, you will see that when labor unions first began, they served a very useful purpose, particularly when it came to workplace safety and child labor laws, but those days are long gone. Occupational health, safety and environmental laws have vastly transformed the workplace. The workplace today has never been safer. When an instance like last year’s fertilizer plant explosion in Texas occurs, the correction is swift and sure. Same thing with the recent chemical spill in West Virginia that tainted the water supply for many people. In order to be relevant, organized labor must conform to the 21st Century workplace. Apparently, the majority of the workforce at Volkswagen/Chattanooga felt the UAW was not.

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