Feb 18, 2014 - 9:45am

VW Workers Rebuff UAW

Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division

Crossposted from the Workforce Freedom Initiative blog

After a campaign in which it seemed to have everything going its way, the United Auto Workers union was unable to convince a majority of employees at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee to unionize.  In a 712 to 626 vote, workers rebuffed the UAW, handing the union a bitter defeat.

The campaign at VW will be studied for a long time to come, but several observations can be made in the immediate aftermath of the vote.  First, the result should prove beyond any doubt that card check is a flawed system for determining the true wishes of workers with regard to unionizing.  The UAW claimed for several months that it had signature cards from a majority of the plant’s employees, and yet, when those employees were allowed to vote in private, the union lost.  As opponents of card check have said for years, when forced to do so in public, people might sign a card for reasons that have nothing to do with supporting a union.  Their real views are best expressed in the privacy of the voting booth.

Second, unions claim that employer pressure and intimidation account for their inability to win elections.  That argument looks quite shaky today.  VW management not only signed a neutrality agreement, they all but rolled out the red carpet for the UAW.  UAW representatives were allowed to speak at employee meetings, they were given access to workers, and reportedly had an office inside the plant.  These are the sorts of conditions unions claim they need to have a “fair” election.  The UAW had all of this, and still couldn’t convince a majority of workers to vote yes.  This will certainly bolster the view that the real problem is not that employers are opposed to unionizing, it’s that workers themselves are.  It’s the product that needs fixing, not the process.

Third, this might mean the end of the UAW’s “moderation.”  Since at least 2011, the union has (sometimes) pursued a non-confrontational approach to organizing — seeking to convince workers and employers that a “new” UAW is a safe partner that will collaborate in the efficient management of a workplace.  The “works council” concept at VW was the epitome of this approach, and notably had management buy-in.  It didn’t work.  Thus, the UAW may decide to revert to form and take the gloves off.  We have already seen this more hostile approach bubbling just under the surface at Nissan’s plant in Mississippi where the fatuous charge of “human rights violator" has frequently been thrown around by the union.  It will be very interesting to see where that campaign goes from here.

The UAW can’t revive its efforts at Chattanooga for a year.  Whether the favorable conditions they enjoyed this time around will exist twelve months from now is open to question.  And as the union knows, those conditions are quite unlikely to exist elsewhere.  It must be a disappointing day at UAW headquarters, and justifiably so.  

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UAW vote screen shot.png

UAW vote screen shot

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About the Author

Glenn Spencer Headshot
Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division

Glenn Spencer is senior vice president of the Employment Policy division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.