Last week the United Auto Workers suffered a highly publicized defeat at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with employees voting against union representation by a vote of 712 to 626. The union election was significant and closely watched for many reasons, but chiefly because it was the UAW’s first opportunity to create an European-style works council in the United States. By setting the works council as the goal for the Chattanooga plant, the UAW was attempting to market a new form of union representation that would give:
workers a more formal voice in the plant’s operations … "to set a new standard in the United States for innovative labor-management relations that benefits the company, the entire workforce, shareholders and the community."
Given that Volkswagen signed a neutrality agreement with the UAW and agreed to a quick election, the outcome was very surprising. As such, interpretations of the vote have ranged from "A Big Blow to Big Labor" to "UAW faced tough sell with happy VW workers" to "The UAW Never Had a Chance". As for the cause of defeat, some blame "outside intervention" by anti-labor groups while others assert that "[p]rivate-sector unions can no longer provide big benefits to members."
In any event, it is unanimous that that while organized labor is certainly disappointed and dejected by the vote, organized labor is not and will not be deterred from its efforts to organize employees in the Southern states. As other commentators have pointed out, organizing Southern workplaces is critical for unions because it would boost the bargaining power of the employees they already represent by removing competition from nonunion facilities.
Consequently, employers with facilities in the South can expect continued attention from organized labor as it strives to gain traction with Southern workers, and as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, the unions are targeting all industries:
We are not going to go after just service workers but manufacturing and construction workers in [the South].
According to Mr. Trumka, unions’ efforts in the south are already paying off as membership has grown in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas.