There’s a reason for that. The full court press by the United Auto Workers to unionize a foreign-owned auto manufacturing plant in the South continues - and all eyes are on Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Volkswagen plant there.
The three-day voting period by Volkswagen's more than 1,550 hourly workers begins Feb. 12. The pending vote has taken on all the trappings of a small town election battle as UAW officials and out-of-state conservative groups opposed to unions seek to influence the votes of plant workers.
The union vote in Chattanooga represents the UAW’s first vote at a major foreign automaker’s assembly plant since the union’s failed attempt to gain the right to represent Nissan workers in Smyrna, Tenn., in 2001. The union lost that vote by a 2-to-1 margin.
In addition to VW in Chattanooga, the UAW has also been attempting to unionize workers at Nissan Motor Company plants in Mississippi and Tennessee, and at a Daimler AG Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama.
What makes the VW plant in Chattanooga different than the Nissan plant in Canton is that VW is preaching “neutrality” in the vote while taking formal contractual steps to coordinate with the UAW on both public statements and communications with plant employees.
UAW membership has plummeted since reaching a peak of nearly 1.5 million in 1979 to almost 400,000 in 2012, due to automation at auto plants and a declining share of the U.S. auto market for U.S. automakers General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler Group that has been lost to foreign auto manufacturers. Other than a foothold at a Mitsubishi plant, the vast majority of all UAW members work at GM, Ford or Chrysler plants.
To survive, the UAW must abandon the ruins of old Detroit and infiltrate the foreign-owned automakers in “Detroit South.” That’s why the UAW has targeted Nissan in Canton and why the VW vote in Chattanooga is drawing international attention.
Democratic Party politicians have rushed to support the UAW in their “Southern Strategy” as quickly as conservatives have rushed to combat it. Those who shriek about the relationship between Big Business and the GOP tend to get lockjaw when it’s time to talk about the relationship between the Democrats and the union bosses.
But the fact of the matter is the UAW can’t win the argument in Mississippi based on economics. The average wage at Nissan is $23.22 an hour or $48,297 per year. And that’s in a state with a median household income of a lowest-in-the-nation $37,095.
So here, the UAW has adopted a political strategy of equating the union push with civil rights. Mississippi’s history makes this state a rich venue for such allegations – but make no mistake that the UAW isn’t here because of any civil rights zeal.
The UAW is trying to “break” a “right to work” state in hopes of convert all the Southern state foreign car makers to union shops. That won’t do anything to improve civil rights in the South, but it sure will prop up a union that has atrophied based on what they brought to old Detroit.
The union has as good a shot in Chattanooga as anywhere in the South because VW seems to be more than “neutral” in this fight.
(Daily Corinthian columnist Sid Salter is syndicated across the state. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)