Legislature Aims Incentives Gun At VW's Head Over UAW Vote



How anti-union is the Tennessee Legislature?

Apparently, they're willing to make economic threats against Volkswagen if the auto workers at the three-year-old Chattanooga plant unionize.

From the Times-Free Press:

Should workers vote for UAW representation, “I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee senate,” said State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga.

Also, state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, urged VW workers to vote “no” on the UAW.

“The taxpayers of Tennessee reached out to Volkswagen and welcome them to our state and our community. We are glad they are here. But that is not a green light to help force a union into the workplace. That was not part of the deal,” the House majority leader said at a press conference.

If you're late to this story, here's what's driving our state's GOP nuts — VW is helping the workers unionize.

The company wants to install what they call a "works council," which would manage the plant. The company says the approach has been very successful, increases productivity and safety and gives workers a stake in things. But in order to put the plan in place, there has to be a union, so VW has been working with the UAW to organize.

The UAW gives up the right to bargain on things like schedules and staffing, but still negotiates on wages and benefits.

The councils, though, lean toward management, according to a piece in the Washington Post.

In the early 1990s, Harvard labor law expert Paul C. Weiler interviewed managers about why they valued works councils. One representative executive told him:

"There are three major advantages of councils. You're forced to consider in your decision making process the effect on the employees in advance…this avoids costly mistakes. Second, works councils will in the final run support the company. They will take into account the pressing needs of the company more than a trade union can, on the outside. And third, works councils explain and defend certain decisions of the company towards the employees. Once decisions are made, they are easier to implement."

In that way, works councils can be an ally of management in keeping the business strong for the sake of keeping workers employed over the long term. Weiler was given this example:

"[The parent company made] an agreement with the works council to introduce a flexible work-time system, around-the-clock operation through Saturday, starting again Sunday night. They were under tremendous pressure from the union not to do this, but let us go ahead. We couldn't have gotten that out of the union.… Our works council people are not hostile to rationalization of automation. On the contrary, they ask us to automate, to modernize our machinery so that our operations can be competitive. They say, 'We know that we lose jobs by this, but we agree that this is a good thing.' "

If a company sees value in organizing and thinks that forming a union will help them, why then are GOP legislators throwing such a hissy fit about it?

Watson even called the campaign for a union "un-American."

Did they not know every other VW plant in the world is unionized? Do they not realize that the councils tend to take steam out of the relationship between companies and workers?

VW's plant in Chattanooga creates jobs. Period. And if the automaker is looking to expand and bring more jobs to the region, the legislature would do well to not take a 19th-century approach to labor relations.

Of course, this is the same state legislature that thinks it should govern what goes on in the state's bedrooms. Their attitude toward the boardroom is not any different.

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