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February 17, 2014 9:17 AM   Subscribe

On Friday, the results of an unionisation vote in Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee plant were announced. The United Auto Workers had worked with German union, IG Metall, to encourage the creation of a works council, common in Germany, in the plant.

The vote was marked by pressure by politicians and lobbyists. Despite Volkswagen encouraging the formation of the works council, which can likely not be done without a union in place, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn), the former mayor of Chattanooga, claimed, on the first day of the vote, that, "should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new midsize SUV here in Chattanooga."

State senator Bo Watson said, "Volkswagen has promoted a campaign that has been unfair, unbalanced and, quite frankly, un-American in the traditions of American labor campaigns .... Should the workers choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, then I believe additional incentives for expansion will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate."

Late Friday, President Barack Obama also commented, criticising politicians' involvement in the vote.

In the end, the vote failed, with 712 against, 626 in favour, and an 89% turnout rate, a blow to the UAW's ongoing campaign to unionise foreign automakers and in the South.
posted by frimble (124 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
A wise move on the part of the workers. After all, one day one of the might become the CEO of Volkswagen and this unionization would have no doubt limited their ability to buy a second yacht.
posted by vorpal bunny at 9:21 AM on February 17 [45 favorites]


Stockholm Syndrome's a bitch.

(Seriously, workers calling the UAW the "Titanic" must warm the cockles of industrialists everywhere.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:27 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


So less 'enterprise free from government intrusion' and more 'Tennessee free from anything that might pull the wool from my constituents eyes after decades of mismanagement'.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:34 AM on February 17


I think that the workers wanted a choice other than the UAW.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:36 AM on February 17 [5 favorites]


From the "In the end" link:
Standing outside the Volkswagen plant, Mike Jarvis, a three-year employee who works on the finishing line, said the majority had voted against U.A.W. because they were persuaded the union had hurt Detroit’s automakers.

“Look at what happened to the auto manufacturers in Detroit and how they struggled. They all shared one huge factor: the U.A.W.,” said Mr. Jarvis, who added that he had had bad experiences with other labor unions. “If you look at how the U.A.W’s membership has plunged, that shows they’re doing a lot wrong.”
Amazing. It's now accepted wisdom that the UAW cratered the domestic auto industry.
posted by notyou at 9:36 AM on February 17 [25 favorites]


The 'no works council without a union' thing is bizarre. I read Electromation, and frankly it seems like a perverse reading of labor law, in the sense that it's technically correct (I guess) but runs afoul what a reasonable person would assume the intent is of labor law generally. Basically it says that a company in a nonunionized workplace can't voluntarily involve it's employees in compensation decisions...? Neither what Electromation was trying to do or what Volkswagen wants to do with its works council seem especially sinister.

I guess maybe the idea is to prevent employers from creating Potemkin Village labor organizations without any real power, but that only matters insofar as they prevent the creation of actual labor organizations. In the case of VW, the employees rejected a traditional union. It seems stupidly punitive to prevent a works council as well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:40 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


It's a pretty sad day for workers when they are so indoctrinated by anti-union sentiment that they can't even agree to something like the German "works councils," which are way less confrontational than the UAW (not that being confrontational has not been necessary in the past or will be in the future to guarantee workers' rights). I wonder if they knew anything about how these organizations had worked in Germany, and I wonder how the German and American bosses made any effort to educate the workers about this alternative model. Wasn't that the point of the vote? It doesn't sound like they were planning to resurrect the spirit of Jimmy Hoffa by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by kozad at 9:42 AM on February 17


There really is not much of a proletariat anymore. There is, however, an ever-burgeoning lumpen-proletariat, especially in the South. We live in the proverbial the land of the blind...where even many of the one-eyed promptly proceed to poke at the good one.

I blame "lawyers, guns, and money." Only half-snark.
posted by CincyBlues at 9:44 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


It took me like three times re-reading this to finally properly parse that Volkswagen had been actually in favor of this.

Kadin2048, I have the vague sense although I have not exactly researched it that this makes sense because unions enjoy certain protections from the employer, and the council would not enjoy those protections. But people might not unionize because they already had a council... thinking that they were already protected in the way they weren't, because it was union-ish. Basically: you can't create something that looks and feels a lot like a union but is totally under your own control and not subject to union regulations, and use it to keep an actual union out. The union, it sounds like, basically has to be there to protect them if the council thing doesn't work out as well as people hope.
posted by Sequence at 9:45 AM on February 17


I wonder if they knew anything about how these organizations had worked in Germany
Why would they have any idea of the state of labour relations in Germany when they have no idea about Detroit?
posted by fullerine at 9:45 AM on February 17 [24 favorites]


It would be interesting to see international/foreign unions setting up branches in the US -- I have to wonder if IG Metall would have had better chances than the UAW since it could point to a very different history.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:46 AM on February 17


they can't even agree to something like the German "works councils," which are way less confrontational than the UAW

That's not what happened. They rejected the UAW, but for all we know the employees are still interested in a works council. But there are some people who think that current US labor law prohibits a works council unless a union is involved.

Basically, US labor law as currently constructed doesn't seem to allow for a non-confrontational collective relationship between labor and management. Either you're represented by a union and the union and management slug it out, or you're not represented by a union and you get to slug it out on your own. The idea of voluntary cooperation, of management being interested in giving their own employees a voice in decisionmaking, even if those employees aren't (by their own decision) collectively represented by a union, doesn't seem to be considered. Or rather, it was considered and rejected for reasons that don't make a ton of sense to me.

Basically: you can't create something that looks and feels a lot like a union but is totally under your own control and not subject to union regulations, and use it to keep an actual union out.

Yeah, I understand that objection, but given that the workers just had a vote on union organization and rejected that concept, it doesn't seem like a huge risk. It'd be interesting to see VW try it and see if they can get it past the NRLB on that basis, as being different in the particulars from Electromation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:50 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


So-called Company Unions, Kadin2048 and others, which is what this proposed Works Council would be, were banned by the same law that set up the NLRB, way back in the 1930s.
posted by notyou at 9:54 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


What a disappointing result.

Why won't American workers understand what's really been going on in the US? The economic failures that have been blamed on unions were a direct result of pro-corporate/anti-labor policy shifts sought by business interests in the US and around the world on the rationale of globalization, just as the myriad budgetary problems blamed on public sector unions are nothing more than the rhetorical rationale for a major social and political power grab from the economic political right. Guys like Mitt Romney, who orchestrated mega-mergers and outsourcing projects, had far more to do with the collapse of industrial labor in the US than the unions ever could. The unions were one of the only forces in US politics pushing against the interests of big capital to exploit workers. Now we've got nothing but lackeys and cronies all the way down...

The American people need to do a better job of looking out for themselves and quit expecting Daddy Warbucks to always come to little Orphan Annie's rescue.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:57 AM on February 17 [22 favorites]


I was under the impression that most legal scholarship viewed single company unions as sort of settled law that would absolutely require changes at the federal level to be legal.
posted by JPD at 9:57 AM on February 17


Either you're represented by a union and the union and management slug it out

This type of thinking, that a union and company have to "slug it out" is part of the problem.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:58 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


The Hamms Bear: Either you're represented by a union and the union and management slug it out

This type of thinking, that a union and company have to "slug it out" is part of the problem.


I think that line of thinking is pretty reasonable after over a century of Maxim guns, strike-busters, Pinkertons, scabs and corruption. Every labor right in America was fought for, not freely given.
posted by spaltavian at 10:03 AM on February 17 [24 favorites]


notyou: " Amazing. It's now accepted wisdom that the UAW cratered the domestic auto industry."

The UAW played their part, as did terrible management on the part of the big three. Not really sure why the UAW of today should be blamed for what the UAW of 30 years ago was doing, though.

It never ceases to amaze me that people will vote directly against their own interests because of some politician's transparently idiotic blathering. In this case, even with the company encouraging unionization. That's what really pisses me off about the politicians who were complaining. It's not up to you, jackasses.
posted by wierdo at 10:05 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Amazing. It's now accepted wisdom that the UAW cratered the domestic auto industry.

If 90% of the people I've talked to on the subject believe this, it'd be less than I'm remembering. It's an area where capital has completely and successfully rewritten history.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:06 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


spaltavian: "I think that line of thinking is pretty reasonable after over a century of Maxim guns, strike-busters, Pinkertons, scabs and corruption. Ever labor right in America was fought for, not freely given."

The mistake is thinking that it must necessarily continue to be that way, even with companies that recognize the value of unions.
posted by wierdo at 10:08 AM on February 17


Its not especially clear that in the case of this particular plant people were voting against their own best interests.
posted by JPD at 10:14 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


JPD, when they're repeating talking points invented by the rich and powerful to benefit the rich and powerful? Yes, I think it's especially clear.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:16 AM on February 17


That's some remarkable logic.
posted by JPD at 10:20 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


i was really, really hoping that the vote would pass
posted by rebent at 10:23 AM on February 17


Travesty in Chattanooga (emphasis in original)
I’m a little rusty on my labor law, but I’m reasonably sure that any employer who issued the sorts of threats made by Republican politicians in Tennessee (including Sen. Bob Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam, and a variety of state legislators, backed by national conservative figures like Grove Norquist) against a unionization effort would have been in blatant violation of the NLRA. But that’s what makes the incident such a travesty: it wasn’t the employer fighting the union (VW by all accounts was neutral-to-positive towards unionization, which would have facilitated establishment of the kind of “work council” the company had set up at other international plants to help maintain good employer-employee relations). As Brent Snavely of the Detroit Free Press reported (probably incredulously):
The crusade by anti-union forces in Tennessee, including the state’s governor and senior senator, is as much a fight with Volkswagen management as with the UAW.

Not only are Republican legislators accusing Volkswagen of backing the UAW, some of their leaders on Monday threatened to withhold tax incentives for future expansion of the three-year-old assembly plant in Chattanooga if workers vote this week to join the UAW.
So addicted are Tennessee Republicans to the “race to the bottom” approach to economic development that they are willing to risk the good will of an existing employer in their zeal to make sure their own people are kept in as submissive a position as possible. President Obama’s reported comment during a Democratic retreat last week that the pols involved in this union-busting effort are “more concerned about German shareholders than American workers” is one way to put it; I’d say they’ve internalized the ancient despicable tendency of the southern aristocracy to favor the abasement of working people as an end in itself.

This incident is also a pretty good symptom of the radicalization of the Republican Party. It’s one thing to oppose collective bargaining rights for public employees, or to defend “right-to-work” laws that interfere with the contracting rights of employers and employees and create “freeriders” who benefit from union collective bargaining without paying dues. But now the very existence of private-sector unions, a familiar part of the American landscape for most of the last century, is under attack from Republican politicians.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:27 AM on February 17 [17 favorites]


The Hamms Bear: "This type of thinking, that a union and company have to "slug it out" is part of the problem."

I've worked in two union shops. Even though the labor agreements in both shops were both fairly uncontroversial, I'd absolutely characterize the union's relationship with the management as "adversarial." In at least one of the two cases, it didn't need to be that way, as the employer (the federal government) had no real incentive to make things miserable for the workers.

In both cases, I was a non-union employee (a seasonal worker, and then a contractor), and as a result, the union employees and the management both treated me like shit. The unions had absolutely no interest in converting contractors to (unionized) full-time employees, or ensuring that new hires were added to the union rolls (especially if this meant that the union workers could squeeze more out of the management in that round of negotiations).

I'm theoretically a strong supporter of unions, and am loathe to blame them for any economic or labor problems that we have in the US. However, the way that I've seen unions implemented in the workplaces where I've been employed has left a really bad taste in my mouth. They were needlessly adversarial, enabled the creation of shitty contract positions, and basically had no regard for anybody outside of their own membership. It's not really surprising to me that the public are skeptical of the UAW.

While I firmly believe that workers in all fields should be entitled to quality representation, "works councils" sound like they might be more palatable to American workers than Unions seem to be today. If we can get more workers access to meaningful labor representation, I'm happy to accept a compromise that leaves some of the Unions' baggage behind...
posted by schmod at 10:29 AM on February 17 [17 favorites]


Its not especially clear that in the case of this particular plant people were voting against their own best interests.

It is clear that the Republican politicians involved weren't thinking of the best interests of either the workers or Volkswagen. That's reason enough to be skeptical of any claims that this was against the workers' interests.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:32 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


This was more of a rejection of the UAW than it was of unionization in general.

People who work that the BMW and Hyundai factories here in the US don't want the UAW anywhere near them.
posted by tgrundke at 10:32 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


If you wish to make an argument that they were voting against their own specific interests you need to show something other than "Unions Good Capital Bad" and "Pinkertons and Maxim Guns".

This isn't to say unionization is bad at all. Just that a snap response of these people in this particular vote are schmucks just because they said no is sorta not saying much interesting.

Bear in mind a wage of $19/hr for a plant (which opened in 2011) while GM and the UAW agreed to reopen the plant in Spring Hill at 16/hr.
posted by JPD at 10:33 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


We get the country we deserve, regardless of where the election is. That being said, there needs to be some serious union reform if they are ever to be taken seriously again. Whether you support organized labor or not, the fact of the matter is that unions are dying a slow but inevitable death if they don't decide to take a serious look at how they do things. And the unions that do things ethically and efficiently and pragmatically are destroyed in the wake of those that are politically and managerially corrupt and mired in adversarial work-rule bullshit.
posted by prepmonkey at 10:33 AM on February 17


I don't think the law anywhere mandates that there needs to be slugging. There is a difference between independent and adversarial. Of course it usually ends up adversarial, because there are all kinds of external pressures. But the thing is, if you can't be non-adversarial without giving up the independence? Then it means absolutely nothing. Of course the company union and the company are going to get along just peachy--and you should never believe for a second that the company union's first priority is going to be the employees. Much like you should never believe that your employer's attorney is actually going to give you good legal advice if a dispute comes up that involves both you and the company. They might--it's not like it's impossible--but you can't rely on it.
posted by Sequence at 10:34 AM on February 17


Confederate sympathizers and top GOPers unite in auto fight
Right-wing groups including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform are also working to defeat the union drive; billboards from ATR’s Center for Worker Freedom warn workers that “The UAW spends millions to elect liberal politicians, including BARACK OBAMA” and (quoting Reuters) that “almost every job lost at U.S. car factories in the last 30 years has occurred at a unionized company …” The Center for Worker Freedom is directed by Matt Patterson, the co-author of a May Op-Ed that described the UAW drive as “an invading union force from the North,” and said that “the people of Tennessee routed such a force in the Battle of Chickamauga,” when the Confederate Army stymied “an invading Union army” during the Civil War. “Let their descendants go now and do likewise,” he urged. (ATR did not respond to a Friday inquiry.)

UAW’s King condemned the role of such “outside special interests” as “really outrageous,” given their stated commitment to “free enterprise.” He added, “I can’t think of a better example of the definition of hypocrisy and duplicity.”
posted by zombieflanders at 10:36 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity, does anyone know what the UAW's dues would have been, if the vote for representation had gone through in favor?
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:39 AM on February 17


JPD: "Its not especially clear that in the case of this particular plant people were voting against their own best interests."

Better relations with one's employer is always in one's best interest unless it involves doublespeak.
posted by wierdo at 10:39 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Rank-and-file autoworkers have been saying this for decades. They understand that power doesn’t come from friendly campaigns and negotiating with management. It doesn’t come from neutrality agreements and promises to behave responsibly and keep the bottom line in sight at all times. As long as the UAW leadership follows this definition of power, they will keep losing until they disappear.
Nicole Aschoff: Tennessee Car Sick Blues
posted by RogerB at 10:42 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Here's my usual Democrat bashing: when there ceased to be a political party a la FDR's (and, maybe more importantly, Henry Wallace's) Democrats that consistently articulated a strong critique of plutocracy and capitalist excess, there was nothing to counter decade after decade of spin. So now we have a situation where nearly 100% of Americans believe the economic "theory" of the 1%, a theory that can't even pass the most basic empirical muster.

Shorter version: more Elizabeth Warren, please.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:48 AM on February 17 [21 favorites]


Don't underestimate the effect of UAW political activism here. The UAW ardently supports pro-abortion and anti-Second Amendment politicians around the country, stances that are hardly popular with the Tennessee skilled manual laborer demographic. A union which was free of such taints would have easily won the election.
posted by MattD at 11:10 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


There's a verbal tic I have noticed from a lot of people with middle class aspirations, which is to talk about their or their children's professional accomplishments by saying that they "work for a Fortune 500 company." But that could mean anything, from being an executive to an accountant to a sysadmin to a secretary to the guy in the mailroom.

Lack of union representation makes people feel "part of the company." Because suddenly you're not part of UAW Local 1234, you "work for Volkswagen", just like the chief of engineering and just like the VP of US Operations. That's the only thing I can come up with to explain the situation. Being a greeter at Wal-Mart lets you feel good about "working for the largest employer in America" which maybe sounds better to you than being a member of the SEIU.
posted by deanc at 11:17 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


(Seriously, workers calling the UAW the "Titanic" must warm the cockles of industrialists everywhere.)
posted by Renoroc at 11:26 AM on February 17


One day, maybe one of them will get to be the one rich guy who owns everything. Then they'll be sooooo glad they didn't vote to unionize!
posted by saulgoodman at 11:28 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I have mixed feelings about the UAW... On one hand, thanks to the contract my Dad's local signed back in the early 1970s, when he had a couple of heart attacks and then quintuple bypass surgery some 25 years after he'd retired, the very generous Blue Cross plan he still had paid for the majority of everything. Dad passed in 2011, at age 86, but Mom is still kicking and getting all her various prescription meds for a mere $2 co-pay, thanks to Dad's contract.

However, even back in the late 1970s, I witnessed the overt sledge-hammer power of the UAW. I worked in the office of a company where the manufacturing plant was UAW. One day we got notice at the last minute that some important customers were going to visit, and (I worked in the advertising department) my boss asked me if I'd wipe down the dusty/fingerprint-covered custom display boards that were stored in the plant that we posted in the lobby to welcome various customers (Caterpillar, Massey-Ferguson, Detroit Diesel, etc.). It was during the lunch break for the plant, and someone saw me with my Windex bottle and caused an almighty brouhaha...I was doing a union worker's job, etc etc. Had a grievance filed and also the boards went unposted because the customers arrived before the shop employees had finished their lunch break.

Even in the 1990s many of my friends who worked on the factory floor at Ford and GM got away with such things as driving to Ohio during work hours to buy lottery tickets for the foreman and the entire department (on the company dime) or selling bulk foods purchased from Sam's Club during working hours to workers on the assembly line. They couldn't be fired or disciplined because they were protected by the UAW. Ben Hamper published a book about all the booze-guzzling and misbehavior that took place on the assembly line with no fear of reprisal thanks to the Union.

So did the UAW contribute just a tiny bit to the demise of the Detroit hold on the auto industry? Perhaps.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:44 AM on February 17 [5 favorites]


This type of thinking, that a union and company have to "slug it out" is part of the problem.

As the son, grandson, and nephew of IBEW blue collar, skilled workers in power plants in the south who grew up listening to stories of them having to strike or threaten strikes at every contract negotiation, up to and including prolonged times during my grandfather's working years when one union man was walking a picket and his also-striking co-worker was working out of state and sending that money back home for the benefit of all the families that were coping with a strike, I feel like I can speak to this with a bit of well-versed, if kinda-sorta second hand, experience.

Even moreso because I grew up to get an education that placed me firmly in the camp of the white collar folks that were on the exact opposite side of similar picket lines in the paper industry, up to and including the very real discussion that went on while I was an engineering co-op student/employee during a contract negotiation that wasn't, as they never do, going well of how the engineers and non-union contractors were going to bring in mattresses and plan for the armored cars that would bring them, folks like myself included, through the picket lines if a strike happened.

It may be that such thinking is part of the problem, but let me say this, the unions aren't out there looking for "more ass-in-seat time", as one intercepted email from the union negotiator said to his constituents, they just want a fair shake at a decent wage and fucking health care that doesn't suck when the company is raking in money hand over fist. If they didn't have to 'slug it out' you know what? They'd be a lot happier and I honestly think that the companies would make money like never before. See Costco for example, blah blah blah.

I told my boss, who knew my background because a well-respected blue collar employee that once worked with my dad and also was known to help out the engineers when they messed something up or something broke and they needed the best and most experienced hand around to come put things right had put in a word for me once it turned out that I was in the final stages of interviewing for the position, that I wouldn't be crossing any picket line and if that meant I didn't get a co-op certificate to go with my diploma, so be it.

It sucks. I really wanted to go into the educated, thinking side of the profession that my family worked in, in a blue collar capacity, for many years. But coming to the realization that companies like that simply don't meet my moral and ethical baseline for sanity and sleeping at night, in SO many categories, has made that impossible.

Sorry for the rant, I'm just sad that it is the way it is... but it's not that way because the unions have made it so or are in some way complicit in the whole thing. It's just not.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:46 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


It was during the lunch break for the plant, and someone saw me with my Windex bottle and caused an almighty brouhaha...I was doing a union worker's job, etc etc. Had a grievance filed and also the boards went unposted because the customers arrived before the shop employees had finished their lunch break.

Ya'know, it seems silly right? I was under the same, well understood, orders while I was a co-op employee. If I did so much as turned on a switch that wasn't a light switch or turned on a valve that wasn't a water faucet or fountain then I was going to be fired. Because that was a union man/woman's job. Mostly because safety reasons. I was in an industrial setting where doing something like that, turning a valve or flipping a breaker, could get someone killed. Literally. But also because it was their job that they were paid/required to do.

So, back to the windex. Windexing something isn't going to kill anyone or put anything like a job at risk right? Well, actually yea. The grievance you mentioned was [had to be] filed because the unions are so used to companies finding any sort of loophole they can to get out of following the spirit of the contract that has been agreed upon that there has to be ridiculous rules-lawyering crap taken at the drop of a hat.

So, yea, blame UAW all you want. But really consider and think hard on the question of if you think the company running that joint could save a buck by hiring a temp worker or part time worker (who doesn't have benefits or any job security to speak of) to windex things, or by proxy get someone else who is on salary and not union in the first place to do it, would they? Would they s[h]ave that buck for the stockholders at the expense of the workers? You know damn right they would.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:55 AM on February 17 [7 favorites]


See Costco for example, blah blah blah.

The vast majority of Costco employees (with the exception of some who came in via the Price Club acquisition) are not unionized. So not sure what you're getting at.

Costco, like VW, seems to be a pretty good employer in the sense that they don't treat their employees like shit even though there's nobody standing with a gun to their head making them do it. The result seems to be that there's little appetite among their employees to bring in a union with a history of confrontational relationships with management. Whether the implicit threat of unionization is part of the reason why they don't treat their employees more shittily is open to argument, I guess.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:00 PM on February 17


Costco, like VW, seems to be a pretty good employer in the sense that they don't treat their employees like shit even though there's nobody standing with a gun to their head making them do it.

Right, which historically in the fields where unions have been groundbreaking in making advances in rights for workers hasn't exactly been the case.

Walmart vs Kroger or some such would have been a better example on the union front, but hey, you got me when I decided to be lazy and expect the mental jump I was referencing, namely that "Companies that don't treat their employees like shit can do well", to be evident.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:03 PM on February 17


Had a grievance filed and also the boards went unposted because the customers arrived before the shop employees had finished their lunch break.

So somewhere up the great chain of being, some boss's boss's boss had the bright idea to schedule a customer visit/tour during a lunch break, so that they could see a bunch of workers eating their lunch and getting fuck-all else done, and that's the union's fault. And while the boss's boss's boss presumably had at least a few days' notice that this was going to happen, and to clean and set out the welcome boards, they didn't do anything about it until literally the last possible moments... but that's the union's fault.

someone saw me with my Windex bottle and caused an almighty brouhaha...I was doing a union worker's job

But.. you were. This is a fact. And the consequences of letting management get away with what seems like a common-sense accommodation this time is not that management is real impressed and everyone gets a raise for being so cooperative. It's that management hires more "office staff" that end up doing cleanup duty at some wage lower than the union one. And, again, it's not the union's fault that management fucked up and either scheduled a visit without enough time to prepare or, more likely, just didn't tell the plant about it until it was too late.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:08 PM on February 17 [15 favorites]


Does anyone have a link comparing working conditions, in the present day, between a UAW auto plant (as common in the midwest / rust belt) and a non-unionized auto plant (as common in the south) for folks to read?

I see a lot online that compares current conditions in one place to an idealized time in another place, many decades ago, and I don't find those comparisons as useful when considering these kinds of issues.
posted by trackofalljades at 12:09 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Ben Hamper published a book about all the booze-guzzling and misbehavior that took place on the assembly line

I read it recently (about a month ago) for the first time and just did not understand all the hype the book gets. Maybe it's because it was written so long ago, and I've read better "from the trenches" type titles from other writers? He brags about screwing around and getting paid for not doing his job - and that didn't tend to impress me.

Perhaps someone can explain to me - in private message if necessary - why I would view as a good thing an organization that I would be forced to join, forced to pay dues to, and then who could tell me when I could or couldn't work if they decided to start striking? What, if as a member of a union I would rather do my job and get paid rather than be part of a strike in order to try to force a company to change conditions / raise wages / etc? What happens in a situation like that? What keeps companies from just firing an entire lot of striking workers and hiring others who are willing to work for the pay offered? I'm not trying to troll or start an argument, I'm sincerely curious about this.
posted by mrbill at 12:13 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


OK, I was doing a union guy's job, but the customer was major and without their contracted work the shop could possibly face lay-offs. It wasn't my fault that their last-minute visit was scheduled for 1:00-ish, right after the plant's lunch hour. So the welcome board went unposted, and customers surprisingly note slights like that. (I used to fill in at the switchboard/reception desk when I first started there, and was surprised to note how almost each and every visiting exec would comment out loud positively on the welcome board.) So the company slights a major customer in the name of a minor 10-minute task I "took away" from a UAW guy?

Not to mention the hijinks that went on (and probably still do) on the shop floor, due to the mind-numbing sameness of assembly line work. Drugs, alcohol, pranks - anything to pass the time. Why didn't the men (and in our plant, all shop workers were men) quit? It was the double-edged sword of the UAW wage plus benefits....you didn't even have to be a high school graduate at the time and you could earn upwards of $20 per hour plus benefits (and this was in 1979/1980) working on the line. Combine that with time and a half for overtime and double time on holidays.... It was definitely an incentive to stick with a repetitive, boring job in an overheated factory. But it was eventually those inflated wages and benefits that helped to cripple Detroit's automakers. 2000 was the first year that the most expensive "component" in a Big 3-made car was not the steel, but the individual worker's health care/retirement benefits.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:19 PM on February 17


Does anyone have a link comparing working conditions, in the present day, between a UAW auto lant (as common in the midwest / rust belt) and a non-unionized auto plant (as common in the south) for folks to read?

I don't. But I can tell you the differences between what my dad, grandfather, and uncle #1 experienced as IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and uncle #2 and cousins #1 and #2 experienced as non-union electrical workers in as close to the same field as you could get.

Pay: Pay rates are similar but non-union pay rates, depending on the job, can actually be higher per hour worked. Union folks have dues to pay as well, not overwhelming.

Job Security: Non-union guys can be fired pretty much at any time and for any reason. Union jobs require a distinct fuckup or two before that's on the table. I never saw/heard of anything like the whole "coming to work and sleeping all day" (aka the union discussion equivalent of welfare queens in a new Cadillac). Sure some days were not busy, but then there would be weeks where they would be required to work 16 hour days for weeks on end.

Hours: For the most part the union side would be 40 hours per week unless conditions or maintenance, planned or emergency, dictated it. On the non union side it's generally more like working 6 days a week, 10 or 12 hours a day. Very non-regular. Union overtime benefits are better and included stipulations like "If you work more than 20 hours straight you get a mandatory paid rest day the next day".

Location: Both union and non-union could require travel for jobs. About the same.

Training: Union training was much more regimented and supported with classes and required time-in-grade before moving up. Non-union training/job placement was more lax insofar as the person hiring you knew you and/or would get you a position based upon what he/she thought you could handle or needed at the moment.

Safety: Union stuff handled safety concerns and preparation much better. I even had a good bit of first hand experience working with contractors and watching them cut corners that the union folks would bust them on or delay a job to correct rather than continue to make a deadline. I've heard of deaths at sites where my non-union family members were working. Union positions encouraged safety via perks and benefits for reaching higher and higher numbers for 'safe man-hours worked' at a given location/region. Let me tell you it's odd when dad came home with a chainsaw that the union gave him (and everyone else at his plant) because they had worked X number of man-hours without an injury.

Retirement: Union stuff was available. Pensions seem to be going away and being lost for various reasons that I don't venture to grok fully but even so, there are retirement plans that are available for folks. Non-union ranges from nominal to "retirement? what is that?".

Health care: Better on the union side, but my data for this is a bit old.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:23 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


why I would view as a good thing an organization that I would be forced to join, forced to pay dues to, and then who could tell me when I could or couldn't work if they decided to start striking?

I'm a union member. Some organizations in my city that do the same work are unionized and some aren't. The unionized employees get better pay and benefits. That would be enough for me to consider my union to be "a good thing." If we go on strike, my dues have helped build up a strike fund that will make sure I don't suffer any catastrophic losses (eviction, foreclosure, etc.) during the strike. If my employer terminates my health insurance during the strike, my union (the UAW actually) will pay the cobra (which they did when my sister union went on strike this summer). After the strike, I will continue to get better pay and benefits. I think that's "a good thing." I also have better job security than my non-unionized peers, another "good thing."

What, if as a member of a union I would rather do my job and get paid rather than be part of a strike in order to try to force a company to change conditions / raise wages / etc? What happens in a situation like that?

You can scab and be a free rider and probably earn the undying enmity of your colleagues who sacrificed to get you better pay and benefits.
posted by Mavri at 12:27 PM on February 17 [9 favorites]


Perhaps someone can explain to me...why I would view as a good thing an organization that I would be forced to join, forced to pay dues to, and then who could tell me when I could or couldn't work if they decided to start striking?

Whether or not you might view this as "good" (I'm presuming the converse is "bad" although you didn't say so) depends upon how you locate your sense of identity within the society you live. If you are the sort of person who thinks that the operative pronoun is "I" then it's quite likely that any argument which suggests that you are actually a member of a class--where the operative pronoun is "We" would not be persuasive to you.

Disclaimer: My background includes lower-level management in a union shop; and mid-level management in a non-union business which was benevolent a la Costco; and officer level management in a non-unionized, not-so-benevolent business; and I am currently a union member as a semi-retired part-time worker for a very large national company. I've been at pretty much all the seats at the table at one time or another.

What, if as a member of a union I would rather do my job and get paid rather than be part of a strike in order to try to force a company to change conditions / raise wages / etc? What happens in a situation like that?

Well, under the conditions you describe you would be considered a scab. Again, it all comes down to where you locate your sense of identity with regard to work.

What keeps companies from just firing an entire lot of striking workers and hiring others who are willing to work for the pay offered?

It's been done at varying times in our history. The repercussions of doing this depends on the legal structure at the time and place in question. The NLRB was founded partly to counter this kinds of decisions made by management; in more recent times, right-to-work laws have eroded the protections of labor.
posted by CincyBlues at 12:41 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


What keeps companies from just firing an entire lot of striking workers and hiring others who are willing to work for the pay offered?

Incidentally, in much of Europe what keeps them from doing it is that it's illegal.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:48 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


OK, I was doing a union guy's job, but the customer was major and without their contracted work the shop could possibly face lay-offs.

That sounds to me like a good reason for your boss's boss's boss to keep on top of shit like that instead of letting it slide until the last minute.

It wasn't my fault that their last-minute visit was scheduled for 1:00-ish, right after the plant's lunch hour.

Not your fault at all. But, importantly, not the union's fault either.

Whose fault was it? Whatever dipshit planned it without thinking ahead or planning for the visit.

So the welcome board went unposted, and customers surprisingly note slights like that.

Again, that sounds like a real good reason for management to keep on top of shit like that instead of just half-assing it and doing things at the last minute.

It's not your fault that you got told at the last minute to do the job. Not necessarily even your boss's fault. But it was someone's fault that you didn't get told until it was too late to do it.

So the company slights a major customer in the name of a minor 10-minute task I "took away" from a UAW guy?

No, management fucked up by slighting a major customer through their own poor planning and incapacity to deal with things in a timely way.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:03 PM on February 17 [17 favorites]


You know, the windex thing wouldn't happen if office workers were also represented.

One of my gripes against union work is that people tend to get thrown into very rigid job roles. In many industries, that's a pretty tough sell, and can ultimately even be a career-killer for the worker. It's also more or less a non-starter in small firms...

Yes, you were doing the union worker's job, and that shouldn't fucking matter. Yes, there are various nuances as to why it did indeed matter in your case... but those are part of the problem.
posted by schmod at 1:06 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I just love the folks on this thread that are blathering on about drunk workers being protected on the job and union folks who don't do shit and their high wages and lazy attitudes...give me a freaking break. I know so many drug addicted, alcoholic slack asses who are white collar folks who make 6 figures a year....and those are some of the ones that made poor engineering, purchasing and design decisions that contributed to the downfall of the American auto industry far more than any union contract or pension burden.

Yes, union leadership needs some solid training and better oversight and the entire UAW is in desperate need of PR, but it doesn't mean that all of it sucks. Some of the workers in TN were intimidated, plain and simple, into voting no. Politicians crowing all over town that "you're not going to see another dime of entitlement money if you vote yes" can be a very overwhelming thing to some people.
posted by Kokopuff at 1:07 PM on February 17 [14 favorites]


Not to mention the hijinks that went on (and probably still do) on the shop floor, due to the mind-numbing sameness of assembly line work.

Whose fault is it that the work contains a lot of mind-numbing sameness?

A lot of your complaints seem to revolve around the fact that management was too uncompetant to make decisions with the union schedule in mind.
posted by deanc at 1:07 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


and those are some of the ones that made poor engineering, purchasing and design decisions that contributed to the downfall of the American auto industry far more than any union contract or pension burden.

Let me put another example out there re:windex and 10-min tasks then I'll dip out 'lest I be a bit righteous over much.

It was a huge deal when the plant I was co-oping at had a scheduled shutdown once a year. Union workers and imported contractors of the non-union flavor would work long and hard to get things done that could only be done then and there. Months, or years, before said shutdown there would be discussions on what needed to be done/fixed/built and who was going to do it (Union or contractor, basically) and where that fell in the scheme of things with regards to the contract. Things would be agreed upon between union and management, and the shutdown would commence.

So, let's say replacing the tri-fernal destabilizer takes longer than it was scheduled to or that management decides something extra needs to be done to it along the way and at the last minute and doing so will require more contractors/more hours than they said it would in the first place. At that point they have the option of calling in the union guys and discussing things and getting them to do it or paying the contractor to do it.

If they choose the former, no sweat, it gets done as soon as physically possible without anyone being put in physical harm or being overworked beyond what a normal human should be asked to do because a union worker gets protection under the contract they negotiated with the management.

If they choose the latter and have the contractor do it, per the contract, they also have to pay a union employee to come in and sit on his hands for an hour for every hour that other person works.

Here's where the questions and accusations pop up: Why would management do that? Why does the union require that? Look at that lazy union (both the individual and the organization as a whole) do-nothing. ... but it makes sense when you see why it has to be that way, because management (both the individual and the organization as a whole) will literally do anything it can to promote what it perceives as it's own interests. Let me just say this, my boss(es) and theirs and theirs went on more than one hunting trip a year paid for by the contractors in question, went to Braves games in box seats, and got gifts and free food showered upon them galore... but I'm sure that had nothing to do with them choosing contractors over unions in that situation 9 times out of ten. ... and the union knows it and that's why they fight so hard for such a seemingly asinine stipulation to be placed into the contract because they know the management will most likely continue to operate in bad faith.

But, the easy thing to do for folks is to not take a hard look at things and say "Wow, that lazy fucker is getting paid to come in for three days and not do a damn thing. Unions, killing this company, amirite?" instead of realizing that if management had planned properly in the first place and/or decided to not have an outside party work outside the stipulated arrangement that everyone agreed to then this whole thing/expense could have been avoided.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:25 PM on February 17 [10 favorites]


Whose fault is it that the work contains a lot of mind-numbing sameness?
I'm not ascribing "fault" - it's the nature of the job. It's boring, it's repetitive, it involves standing on your feet for eight hours or more in a sweltering factory (during the summer months). It's just what assembly requires. However, in the early 1980s we (and I literally mean "we" - I saw many of these "this is how we remain competitive" videos) were being shown films of Japanese workers who embraced their jobs, no matter how boring. They sang the corporate fight song at the beginning of the day, and formed Quality Circles to discuss how they could improve their productivity. And that mindset was just not going to happen overnight in an atmosphere where folks were getting $20+ an hour to just show up and meet their quota, no matter if they were drunk or whatever during work hours. There had been too many years of laissez-faire on the part of the Union honchos to expect any immediate wage concessions, or the prospect of being drug-tested.

Again, I am not per se anti-Union; my parents would not have had the excellent health insurance Mom now enjoys without the UAW. But that level of benefits has not been offered for a long time due to the overwhelming costs. Heck, I don't have it available to post because it's a newspaper clipping from the early 1980s, but there was an article in the Detroit Free Press at the time spotlighting a Chrysler factory custodian who earned just over $100,000 per year because he was single and didn't mind picking up every overtime and holiday shift. He had no family and didn't mind sleeping in the guard's shack for a few hours (rather than driving home) before starting yet another shift at either double or triple time. I'm not an economist, so I cannot fathom what our overall economy/price of goods would be today if every U.S. employee earned a minimum base wage of $30 per hour (I'm adjusting the Chrysler guy's hourly wage for inflation). (Mind you, even at that time, your average custodian, even at unionized places like hospitals and public schools didn't earn UAW-caliber wages.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:28 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I consider myself a reasonable fellow. And I know that I am not going to persuade those who find it trendy to invoke Godwin's Law. Still I'm going to say it: This country has gone fascist. It's taken 40 years or so but here we are.

It's a soft-fascism more akin to Mussolini's Italy than to what occurred in Germany. It's still very, very pernicious and yes, I'll say it--evil. This isn't the place to muster the full argument, but there are some salient features that apply here.

Why did the vote go the way it did? Why, as others have wondered, does our society have such a large component of people who consistently act against their own interests? One important aspect of an answer should be fairly obvious: corporate control of the media. There were reasons why we once had laws in place to deliberately keep various media decentralized. There are reasons why those laws have been overturned for the most part. The rise of media conglomerates has great power not only to dictate which stories get told but also the manner in which they get told. Now, some might counter that the Internet offsets this dynamic. And in some respects it does--for those who independently take to time to seek out alternate perspectives. However, your Average Working Class Joe and Josephine don't tend to do this. They are too busy. The have kids to get to school and mortgages to pay off--they'll get their news from the "easy" places. If a company owns newspapers, radio stations and television stations, plus magazines etc... then it's pretty simple to establish a narrative (or at least the parameters within which "acceptable" discussion can take place.) So, look to the recent decade or two of mergers on the media front to help explain why so many folks accept the premises that are repetitively thrust at them from a (seeming) variety of sources.

The other element I wish to consider is this: is this drift to fascism deliberate? Yes. Pahl and Winkler discussed this back in 1975. "The Coming Corporatism" was published in 1975. BTW, I'm not blaming Pahl and Winkler, I'm just citing them as an easy to find summary of the societal problem as they saw it then. (Don't pay for the article if you want to read the whole thing; I have a copy which I have toted around since 1980 or so--I'll go find it and scan it for those who Memail me.)

Okay, at this point I'll stop. Otherwise it's down the rat-hole of the post-1971 deliberate deconstruction of the American economy. Maybe that is worthy of a separate thread if it hasn't already been done here.
posted by CincyBlues at 1:33 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


FWIW, I don't think that there's a single person in this thread saying that unions are a fundamentally bad idea.
posted by schmod at 1:36 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


a Chrysler factory custodian who earned just over $100,000 per year because he was single and didn't mind picking up every overtime and holiday shift

I can't say I see a problem with someone willing to do that being compensated well for it. My highest weekly pay to date has been doing bizarre twelve-plus-hours-for-ten-days stints out in the middle of nowhere, and I know I'd have wanted a raise on top of that for putting up with it for longer. I'm just glad the dude was apparently snoozing in the guard shack rather than driving tired, which seems like the worst problem with that scenario.
posted by asperity at 1:37 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Blech, I'm not even going to begin to comment on the rest of your post but I can't help but ask, with regards to this

Chrysler factory custodian who earned just over $100,000 per year because he was single and didn't mind picking up every overtime and holiday shift. He had no family and didn't mind sleeping in the guard's shack for a few hours (rather than driving home) before starting yet another shift at either double or triple time.

... are you really saying that this gentleman's time wasn't worth $100k a year, combined with the understanding that he or she is working basically all his waking life away by sleeping in a shack on the premises for a few hours and forgoing all holidays, downtime, and family life to clock back in?

I think you are, but I retain hope that I must be misunderstanding you. Let's just say that bemoaning some hypothetical inflation effect due to higher wages as a way to say that employees here have it oh so good and should thank their lucky stars they even garner what they have or something is really looking at things from an assbackward point of view.

Anyway, gotta go.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:40 PM on February 17 [10 favorites]


I cannot fathom what our overall economy/price of goods would be today if every U.S. employee earned a minimum base wage of $30 per hour
Scary thought there, for every 60000 Employees getting $30 an hour you'd need up to TEN or FIFTEEN CEOs to equal things out.

Do we have that many job creators?
posted by fullerine at 1:44 PM on February 17 [8 favorites]


Oriole Adams: "And that mindset was just not going to happen overnight in an atmosphere where folks were getting $20+ an hour to just show up and meet their quota, no matter if they were drunk or whatever during work hours. There had been too many years of laissez-faire on the part of the Union honchos to expect any immediate wage concessions, or the prospect of being drug-tested."

Orly? This is what actually happened when GM decided to take a page from Toyota's playbook and give their workers a bit of respect.

And then when they tried it without the respect elsewhere, guess what? It didn't work for shit.
posted by wierdo at 1:55 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


FWIW, I don't think that there's a single person in this thread saying that unions are a fundamentally bad idea.

Well, no. Just a lot of the standard "the idea of unions is good, but once I saw this bad thing happen" combined with a touch of the expected "unions aren't needed anymore".
posted by inigo2 at 2:09 PM on February 17 [12 favorites]


I'm curious to know what average wages in the US would be excluding the top 1% (or hell, even the top 0.1%) completely from the math. Since the gap between that tier and the rest of us is so disproportionately wide, the distorting effect of those higher earner's incomes on the average must be pretty damn acute. Oh, wait--here's a decent source for a little better breakdown of the wage info. Most Americans' real take home wages are shrinking pretty dramatically relative to the wage growth at the upper end, so the average and even the median wage numbers that get floated around could be more misleading than you'd expect to anyone with a genuine interest in understanding how the economy is working out for most Americans in the decades since (among other business friendly moves) we've seen unions slipping in influence in the US.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:10 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Some of the workers in TN were intimidated, plain and simple, into voting no. Politicians crowing all over town that "you're not going to see another dime of entitlement money if you vote yes" can be a very overwhelming thing to some people.

Some of them might have been. But let's keep in mind that, in generations past, people were literally willing to risk their lives in order to be union members. And this time around, they were scared away by a couple of billboards and some vague rumblings of threats about government funding?

Either Americans as a group have experienced a sudden and dramatic decrease in backbone, or maybe unions are not doing quite as good a job of demonstrating their utility to prospective members as they did in the past.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:10 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Well, no. Just a lot of the standard "the idea of unions is good, but once I saw this bad thing happen" combined with a touch of the expected "unions aren't needed anymore".

Same thing happens with public education. A lot of natural progressives still haven't figured out that being open minded and critical isn't a suicide pact. If you want to make unions better, a necessary requirement is that they exist
posted by mondo dentro at 2:17 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Self quote: Let's just say that bemoaning some hypothetical inflation effect due to higher wages as a way to say that employees here have it oh so good and should thank their lucky stars they even garner what they have or something is really looking at things from an assbackward point of view.


Knew I'd heard that somewhere before... One of my favorite shows too!

Are you working at an award for fighting inflation!?
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:20 PM on February 17


Just a lot of the standard "the idea of unions is good, but once I saw this bad thing happen" combined with a touch of the expected "unions aren't needed anymore".

I'm not seeing much "unions aren't needed anymore". I am seeing a fair bit of "Stockholm Syndrome/people vote against their best interests". Though I think it's a losing strategy to paint those one claims to be helping as rubes.

The American people need to do a better job of looking out for themselves and quit expecting Daddy Warbucks to always come to little Orphan Annie's rescue.

Whoa... this sounds like a Tea Partier rallying cry.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:26 PM on February 17


but there was an article in the Detroit Free Press at the time spotlighting a Chrysler factory custodian who earned just over $100,000 per year because he was single and didn't mind picking up every overtime and holiday shift. He had no family and didn't mind sleeping in the guard's shack for a few hours (rather than driving home) before starting yet another shift at either double or triple time.

Everyone says that people who make a lot of money do so because they work hard. This guy worked hard and was willing to do what other people weren't willing to do. In exchange, Chrysler did not have to pay for the pension or health insurance benefits of at least 1, possibly 2 other FTEs. If the person were a nurse working double shifts at the hospital, we would have commended her for being so industrious.

It's like the complaint about unions is simultaneously that the workers don't work hard and that they work too many hours.

In the absence of unions, we see what happens: at Wal-Mart, workers are given as few hours as possible with no fixed shifts, so they have to be "on call" 24 hours a day every day of the week for the 20-some hours they might be allowed to work.
posted by deanc at 2:31 PM on February 17 [16 favorites]


I'm not seeing much "unions aren't needed anymore".

Matter of interpretation, I guess; I considered the need to make statements effectively comparing how important unions used to be versus more recent times to have a logical conclusion that they weren't necessary. (It may be an aggressive interpretation, sure.)
posted by inigo2 at 2:42 PM on February 17


Some of the workers in TN were intimidated, plain and simple, into voting no.

Maybe, maybe not.
I can say that, were I working in this plant, the UAW would have to have some really, really convincing presentations to make me vote for them.
This works council thing seems like an excellent idea, and seems to work well in other parts of the globe.
The UAW, on the other hand, seems like a unnecessary, rent-seeking layer in the process.

Volkswagen appears to offer good benefits and a decent work environment all on their own, the factory does not seem to be a Victorian horror, and the Pinkertons have yet to be called.
In an environment like that, the UAW would need some to show some examples of how they have cooperated with management in the modern era, not just endless repetitions of how they stood up to Henry Ford a half-century ago. Resting on your laurels isn't a productive strategy for membership growth.

Does anyone know if existing workers would have been required to join the union? That would have been a deal-breaker for me, as would be an utterance of the word 'scab' by any union rep.

On the other hand, I might have been tempted to vote Yes, just to spite that asshat Norquist.

(Disclaimer: I have not been associated with a union since I was a teenager in a grocery store)
posted by madajb at 3:17 PM on February 17


Thanks to those upthread who gave answers without jumping down my throat. My honest curiosity comes from the POV of 36-hour work weeks during high school, workstudy jobs during college, and almost continuous full-time employement since 1996.

However, it's all been in (badly-named) "right-to-work" states (OK, TX) and never in a field or company where there was any sort of a union presence. I did work for part of Cincinnati Bell (Broadwing) for a bit; everyone got the same holidays as the unionized telecom workers but that was it.
posted by mrbill at 3:22 PM on February 17


Why won't American workers understand what's really been going on in the US?

Because, as detailed above, powerful people are going out of their way to give them bad information and trick them?

Organized labor is not going anywhere though. It may need to be "re-branded," just as the socialism that is the inevitable result of the economic crash and the betrayal of a generation will probably come under a more user-friendly name. When the baby boomers have finally shuffled off and millennials are running things, you don't think it's going to look a little different? It'll be called "economic progressivism" or some such thing, but it will happen.

People don't like being screwed over. When it happens to enough people for a long enough time, things change. It's a slow process in the US, because of how rich and comfortable so many of us are, but it's always happened before and it will happen again.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:32 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


The UAW, on the other hand, seems like a unnecessary, rent-seeking layer in the process.

You don't "rent-seek" with labor. Capital's what's used for rent-seeking. The analogy to rent-seeking breaks down when you consider that the system of thought from which the concepts of capital and labor derive was originally premised on the labor theory of value--i.e,, that the investment required in human skill, time and effort to bring a good or service to market should be the justification for the market price (basically, it should cost at least enough to buy a thing on a fair market as it costs to fairly compensate everyone who works to make the thing, and really not much more, raw material and fixed capital maintenance costs aside).

Labor isn't a fixed, finite resource like capital, doing no good for society whatsoever (and active economic harm) when it's left sitting idle, making rent-seeking an issue. Labor represents masses of people whose lives are inherently valuable, regardless of the economic calculus. They don't have the option to sit idly regardless of the economics. They have families to raise and communities to build and participate in. Capital isn't alive. Labor is. Any economic theory that doesn't acknowledge this crucial distinction is incoherent and bound to be antisocial in character. Labor means people, capital means property. Any system that privileges property over humanity is obscene.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:49 PM on February 17 [14 favorites]


Maybe, maybe not.
I can say that, were I working in this plant, the UAW would have to have some really, really convincing presentations to make me vote for them.
This works council thing seems like an excellent idea, and seems to work well in other parts of the globe.
The UAW, on the other hand, seems like a unnecessary, rent-seeking layer in the process.

Which would be great, if roughly 100 years of American labor law was set up to allow such an arrangement, which it is not.

Volkswagen appears to offer good benefits and a decent work environment all on their own, the factory does not seem to be a Victorian horror, and the Pinkertons have yet to be called.
In an environment like that, the UAW would need some to show some examples of how they have cooperated with management in the modern era, not just endless repetitions of how they stood up to Henry Ford a half-century ago. Resting on your laurels isn't a productive strategy for membership growth.


Does anyone know if existing workers would have been required to join the union? That would have been a deal-breaker for me, as would be an utterance of the word 'scab' by any union rep.


I think the problem here is that you don't actually understand how a union works.
posted by stenseng at 3:53 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Does anyone know if existing workers would have been required to join the union?

No, they would not, as Tennessee is a "right to work" state.
posted by fogovonslack at 4:03 PM on February 17


OK, I was doing a union guy's job, but the customer was major and without their contracted work the shop could possibly face lay-offs.

The Manager who gave you the task to do COULD HAVE done it themselves perhaps?
posted by mikelieman at 4:11 PM on February 17


Some of the workers in TN were intimidated, plain and simple, into voting no.

It's really hard to arrive at that conclusion when you realize that the UAW actually had organizers on the assembly line itself and Volkswagen management defused the most potent anti union rhetoric - that the plant was going to get the Mid sized SUV regardless of the outcome - counter to Corker's claim. It is very believable that the election was lost on equating the UAW with social liberalism and an anti gun stance - which is bullshit but thats not intimidation.

I suspect the real problem is that the deal these workers have today wasn't worse than what you'd get as a new hire at a big three assembly plant today.
posted by JPD at 4:26 PM on February 17


Also there is a very interesting piece on labor notes about today's vote oral on their homepage. They make the point That the UAW chose to focus on assembly, the glamorous bit of the industry for their organization drive rather than parts - an industry that the UAW has always treated like a stepchild and as a result even union shops pay wages that are barely liveable.
posted by JPD at 4:33 PM on February 17


The Manager who gave you the task to do COULD HAVE done it themselves perhaps?

Then the manager would have been doing a union guy's job, and the result would have been the same.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:34 PM on February 17


In an environment like that, the UAW would need some to show some examples of how they have cooperated with management in the modern era, not just endless repetitions of how they stood up to Henry Ford a half-century ago. Resting on your laurels isn't a productive strategy for membership growth.

You wouldn't have to look too far back -- maybe just as far back as recent contracts with Ford, Chrysler, and GM. Or the decades of labor/management cooperation beginning after WWII and continuing right up until the wheels came off of the industry.

This works council thing seems like an excellent idea, and seems to work well in other parts of the globe. The UAW, on the other hand, seems like a unnecessary, rent-seeking layer in the process.

This would have been the same model VW is familiar with in Germany. Representation by the big National union (UAW here, IG Metall in Germany), with the local Works Council given the authority to work out the details with the plant's managers. VW was in favor of this move, recall. And now they'll have to find some other work around, one that doesn't result in a company union, because that's still against the law.

I suspect the real problem is that the deal these workers have today wasn't worse than what you'd get as a new hire at a big three assembly plant today.

Sure. Anti-union pressure from the governor et al didn't make it any easier.
posted by notyou at 4:40 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


So the company slights a major customer in the name of a minor 10-minute task I "took away" from a UAW guy?
No, management fucked up by slighting a major customer through their own poor planning and incapacity to deal with things in a timely way.

People fuck up and forget little things all the time (like cleaning a display case). It's really unreasonable to say, "it's 100% your fault because you weren't 100% perfect and didn't remember 100% of everything, every time."

Whose fault is it that the [1979/1980 assembly line] work contains a lot of mind-numbing sameness?

Henry Ford, for not inventing computers and assembly robots in 1920.

It's not in unions' best interests to come off as being inflexible and always pointing the finger at others. It's really bad PR, and probably part of the reason why this unionization effort lost. I'm positive towards the idea of unionization, but all I hear is shit like this Windex story whenever I bring one up in my non-unionized workplace (from people who've worked in/with a union). Union/management relations may be toxic, but trying to always deflect blame/justify rules-lawyering inflexibility just does the Republicans' PR work for them.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 4:43 PM on February 17


The Center for Worker Freedom

I wonder how long it takes to get from there to the Ministry of Truth.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:48 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


It's really really really hard to make an argument that the UAW is some hard core obstructionist union these days. A simple examination of facts will show they are really open to working with management when managements behavior is in good faith. About the only example of really intractable disagreement i can remember over the last few years was over reclassifying workers from an OEM scale to a Tier one parts scale.
posted by JPD at 4:51 PM on February 17


In the end, the vote failed, with 712 against, 626 in favour, and an 89% turnout rate

87 votes. 87 votes.

I’m a little rusty on my labor law, but I’m reasonably sure that any employer who issued the sorts of threats made by Republican politicians in Tennessee (including Sen. Bob Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam, and a variety of state legislators, backed by national conservative figures like Grove Norquist) against a unionization effort would have been in blatant violation of the NLRA.

The President of the UAW was on television earlier; I believe his exact quote was, "We're looking into all of our options."
posted by Room 641-A at 4:53 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


JPD: If you wish to make an argument that they were voting against their own specific interests you need to show something other than "Unions Good Capital Bad" and "Pinkertons and Maxim Guns".

What? I wasn't arguing that they were voting against their specific interests, I was talking about adversarial relations between organized labor and management.
posted by spaltavian at 5:09 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


87 votes. 87 votes.

Yeah, maybe Corker and Norquist swayed 87 votes. But there were 625 other votes that should have gone the UAW's way. So yes, there may be some legal recourse for the UAW, but it shouldn't have been that close to begin with.
posted by deanc at 5:27 PM on February 17


87 votes. 87 votes.

Actually, that's just 44 people changing their minds. This was far from a total rejection of unionism.
posted by JackFlash at 5:29 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


JPD: "Volkswagen management defused the most potent anti union rhetoric - that the plant was going to get the Mid sized SUV regardless of the outcome - counter to Corker's claim."

You have a cite for that?
posted by wierdo at 5:46 PM on February 17


You don't "rent-seek" with labor. Capital's what's used for rent-seeking.

I'm not entirely sure that's correct, but I am not an expert on economics by any stretch of the imagination.
In any case, you'd have to believe that the UAW is an expression of labor rather than a multi-national corporation injecting itself into the supply chain.
posted by madajb at 6:18 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


It's not correct. Anything over an input's opportunity cost is rent. Professional athletes, for example, commonly receive very large rents for their labor, since their next-best use for their labor is commonly far less remunerative than their actual job.

Rent just isn't bad in that context, so long as they're still just earning their marginal product.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:25 PM on February 17


I think the problem here is that you don't actually understand how a union works.

I am well aware of how a union works.
I am also aware that labor law varies from state to state and that I am not familiar with all the ins and outs.
posted by madajb at 6:26 PM on February 17


Which would be great, if roughly 100 years of American labor law was set up to allow such an arrangement, which it is not.

Yes, it seems that labor law and relations need some updating for the 21st century.

Then again, in the current political climate, any change is almost certainly going to be negative for workers, so maybe it's better to leave well enough alone.
posted by madajb at 6:29 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I blame "lawyers, guns, and money." Only half-snark.

Why? They seem pretty disheartened about this too.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:03 PM on February 17


Yeah, imagine what a living hell the USA would be if everyone made 30 bucks an hour and had the excellent healthcare and pension of Oriole Adams' mom.
posted by Rumple at 7:11 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


From the Lawyers, Guns & Money link:
On top of that, the UAW having to agree to two-tiered contracts so the Big Three auto makers would keep jobs in Michigan and Ohio, contracts that drastically lowered wages for new workers, did not lend itself to potential new members thinking the UAW was going to make their lives better.
What? Oh. Yeah, I wouldn't join that union either.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:20 PM on February 17


How long would another union have to wait before they could make an organization attempt after UAW's?

I.e., could 'IG Metall USA' (if they could file the paperwork to create such a thing) or maybe one of the aerospace unions like IAM make an organization attempt? If what appears to be the case -- that this was more a referendum on the UAW in particular rather than organized labor or unionization in general -- they might be able to get the votes necessary without much effort.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:36 PM on February 17


How long would another union have to wait before they could make an organization attempt after UAW's?

Any union could technically file for an election once they have written support from 30% of the employees. But typically a union will not file without at least 60% support, a level that would take at least 1 year to reach in a good organizing drive.

saulgoodman: I actually stood up and cheered while reading this.
posted by willie11 at 8:42 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Henry George and Thorstein Veblen would be rolling in their graves. I'm with saulgoodman with respect to rent-seeking. He succinctly (and correctly, imo) establishes the historical context of the term. I also agree with his conclusions respecting the moral implications of this historical divide.

I'll offer some further reading which, I hope, suggests the spectrum of thought available.

Michael Hudson, in my opinion one of the more sane economists around today, gives a more elaborate analysis of both the historical context as well as the current quandaries we face, as follows:

--Veblen's Institutionalist Elaboration of Rent Theory.
--America's Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff (part 2, part 3, part 4)

ROU_Xenophobe's point is, I suspect, representative of what one might hear in many standard economics courses offered at universities. It's somewhat abstracted from history, imo, and thus does not reflect real world struggles between competing interests. He introduces the concept of "opportunity cost" so here is some more reading on the relation between Rent-seeking and opportunity cost:

--Investopedia: Economic Rent and Opportunity Cost
--A technical discussion of costs in general, taken from a randomly selected university microeconomics course: Costs (14 pg pdf)
--From the Review of Austrian Economics: Rent Seeking--Some Conceptual Problems and Implications (21 pg pdf)
--Cowen and Tabarrok: The Opportunity Costs of Rent-Seeking (11 pg pdf)

It's fair to say that Hudson resides on the left side of the political spectrum. The Investopedia and textbook links more or less represent conventional thinking. The last two links come from the right/libertarian point of view.

Now here is where is gets interesting. These next three links represent attempts to shift the classical notion of rent-seeking into new territory. I'll leave it up to readers to draw their own conclusions regarding motive:

--Income Inequality
--From Cato: Unions, the Rule of Law, and Political Rent Seeking (22 pg pdf)
--Rent Seeking: A Violation of Liberty

While my bias is evident, I welcome and will happily read through any literature which others think may be better representations of other views.
posted by CincyBlues at 11:00 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


False consciousness is a hell of a drug.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:56 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Cincy, the idea that labor can't rent-seek is just wrong. We know labor engages in rent-seeking. For example, groups like hairdressers seeking at least arguably superfluous licensure requirements to work in their industry are a classic example of rent-seeking.

Rent-seeking behavior on the part of labor, however, might not have the same extractive, nonproductive implications that it does outside of labor. Specifically, there might be a gap between reservation wages in some industry and the marginal product of workers, and rent-seeking underneath the marginal product still reflects the underlying productivity of the worker. I mean, it's unproductive in the sense that the additional money doesn't spur any new activity, but it's more the prevention of exploitation than actual extraction.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:50 AM on February 18


For example, groups like hairdressers seeking at least arguably superfluous licensure requirements to work in their industry are a classic example of rent-seeking.

You need a better example.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:20 AM on February 18


Tennessee was afraid of the United Auto Workers. Here’s why it shouldn’t be.
Would a strong UAW actually drag down the companies that host it, and repel others thinking of coming in?

The answer, on both counts, is almost certainly not.

Let's take the first question. Are unionized companies now less productive than their non-union competitors? Well, that might have been the case through the mid-2000s, as the Detroit Three's workforces aged and the cost of generous pensions mounted (and the companies weren't doing themselves any favors, having misjudged the market for lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles). But according to data gathered by Oliver Wyman analyst Ron Harbour, the American automakers had nearly caught up to Toyota and the rest by 2008 through lean production processes and buyouts of older workers. Restructuring, a new product mix, and revived demand got them the rest of the way there; Michigan plants are now by and large running at peak capacity.

"You can't today make a conclusive statement that the presence of a union in a plant makes that plant any less competitive," says Harbour, whose report now includes productivity data from most global automakers (they participate on the condition that it not be publicly released). The UAW, meanwhile, has become more of a partner than an opponent. "They used to fight against efforts to make the plant more productive, but they realize it's what makes the vehicle cost competitive, and therefore sustains the long-term viability of the plant," Harbour says.

Of course, that's also because the union agreed to a two-tiered wage structure, under which new hires get paid around $14 an hour while old hands make closer to $30, plus excellent retirement and health care benefits -- something that's made joining the union less attractive, especially in the German automakers, which already pay somewhere in the middle. For that reason, pro-UAW organizers at the Volkswagen plant focused on the benefits of representation and coordination with management, rather than a long-term monetary upside. But if the employees have less to gain from joining a union, financially, the companies have less to lose -- which is why policymakers shouldn't fear them taking root.

Now, the next question: Would a union presence damage Tennessee's business-friendly reputation enough to repel companies looking for a spot to land, or make existing ones disappear?

Again, the answer is almost certainly not, for several reasons.

First of all, a factory is a huge investment, and while businesses might not welcome a union, having one isn't enough to make them abandon it. "You don't build a plant and just walk away from it," says Kristin Dziczek, a labor specialist at the Center for Automotive Research. "I don't see that as a really viable option." Besides, she notes, it's not like the South is completely bereft of organized automakers: The General Motors plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. has been unionized since it was built. "That facility, which employs several thousand people, has not led to mass unionization and exodus of suppliers," she says.

And second of all, there are lots of reasons why automakers need to have production in the United States. Unlike with consumer goods like shoes or kitchen appliances, cars are really heavy, and shipping costs can get prohibitive. Also, importing cars can get tricky from a currency perspective -- that's why automakers like to produce cars within the market that buys them. "It's a huge issue, especially with the Japanese producers," Dziczek says. "You could be making vehicles very cost effectively in Japan, but the currency's out of whack, so you're selling them at a loss."
posted by zombieflanders at 7:17 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


You need a better example.

Auctioneers, then.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:19 AM on February 18


Rou, I tried to be careful when I put that together last night because I didn't want to slight your perspective--even though I think it confuses matters. My criticism was as follows:

It's somewhat abstracted from history, imo, and thus does not reflect real world struggles between competing interests.

"It's" being the way the concept is taught in micro classes which I described as conventional wisdom. At the micro level (and that means temporarily accepting the premises upon which the conventional wisdom is based) you and I are not far apart, especially given the qualifications you offered in our recent comment. Differing connotations of the term "rent" doesn't help either.

Here's my main point and why I think it so important. First, it isn't established that a union is a rent-seeker. To do so would insist that the presence of a union does not improve productivity. Naturally, this, in turn, depends upon how one defines "productivity." At the micro level, factors of production and opportunity costs tend to be quantitative. My concern, and I believe the political concern, too, requires that we also include qualitative aspects which tend to be overlooked in this kind of analysis. For example, quantifying "happiness" is a thorny issue. That's what utilitarianism (Bentham, Mills, et al) is all about and a lot of utilitarian precepts are built into standard economics as premises. This begs the question: how good are utilitarian precepts insofar as they are introduced into economic analysis, especially when one considers that so much economic doctrine depends upon the acceptance of said premises?

Second, and more important as a practical matter, a key principle which underscores our approach to government (and hence, our society and culture) in the United States is that competing interests will exist and will struggle for the power to impose those interests upon the rest of society. Our founders deliberately diffused our branches of government in order to take into consideration the competition for powers that various interests represent. It's messy, but it tends to work, even if imbalances are remedied at a slower pace than many folks might wish.

Insofar as this affects the economy, our history demonstrates that the existence of unions, which represent the institutionalization of a countervailing set of interests to those of Capital (especially industrial Capital), is a necessary component of our society in order to moderate the kinds of imbalances and inequities of our system as a whole. So, at the macro level, saulgoodman's mention of the labor theory of value is not only relevant and important, but also correct. Broadly speaking, it's an idea that was accepted across the spectrum of economic thought as economic thought developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, folks with some serious differences, such as Adam Smith, Alexander Hamilton, and Karl Marx all had their take on this important notion. In fact, and this is why I tend to like Hudson so much because he has expended serious time on this generally overlooked aspect of American economic history, one of the key concepts in the development of the American economy was described as a "harmony of interests."

So, to bring this home: the historical expression of the term "rent-seeking" as it played out in the rough and tumble of not only economic practice but also in the area of the struggle for political power among competing and often "non-harmonious" interests is specifically addressed towards those feudal or quasi-feudal remnants of our economic practice which do not add to the economic productivity of our society as a whole. (If you haven't read the Hudson series yet, please do. He's much smarter than I am and more eloquent, too.)

Speaking as someone who at varying times of my career has taken a seat on both sides of a grievance table, I recognize that the presence of unions does add some complexity to running a business. But I also recognize that if the working stiff is going to get any kind of a fair shake in this modern world, then unions, as the institutional representative of the working class, are a vital and necessary locus of power in competition with other loci of power in the economic sphere. Especially now, when the dominant features and practices of our economy are so unhealthily dictated by financial interests--which tends to militate against both industrial capital and labor. Capital and unions are on a two-way street; traffic sometimes gets a little congested. But it sure beats the one way street to hell that such a large portion of the population is currently traveling when economic policy is determined by one overly powerful set of interests.
posted by CincyBlues at 8:28 AM on February 18 [7 favorites]


I'm not qualified to participate in the discussion when it reaches such a level as this, but I just wanted to say that's a well constructed and enjoyable comment and that I, as a lay person with little to no formal training in the philosophical or economic side of things, could consume it without too much trouble. Thanks for that. Flagged as fantastic and all that jazz.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:39 PM on February 18


... are you really saying that this gentleman's time wasn't worth $100k a year, combined with the understanding that he or she is working basically all his waking life away by sleeping in a shack on the premises for a few hours and forgoing all holidays, downtime, and family life to clock back in?

I'm not saying his time wasn't worth the money, but I'm wondering why every custodian's time - even those who don't work at Chrysler - isn't worth the same amount? Most custodians at Metro Airport, in the Detroit Public School system, at Blue Cross/Blue Shield weren't earning half that amount at that time, even with overtime. And perhaps it was because of such inflated wages that the UAW eventually priced themselves out of the competition.
posted by Oriole Adams at 4:23 PM on February 18


I'm pretty sure management's inability to design and produce vehicles that could compete with Japanese imports had more of a hand in pricing themselves out of the market.
posted by Pudhoho at 7:52 PM on February 18


Bad management is going to be reflected in more than one area. The US car industry made lots of strategically poor decisions, as did the car industry unions. The worst, and most outrageous (to my mind) was treating pension entitlements as a current expense rather than a liability. This meant that the cost of staying in business increased every year, and gradually made the business unprofitable.

This wasn't solely a corporate managerial failure. In theory, the union should have fought this. In theory, the union should also have accepted a wage cut across the board sooner than accept a two-tiered wage structure that privileged older employees. It looks to me as if everyone knew that a crash was coming, and the corporate and union management decided to look after their existing power base rather than the interests of investors and future employees. They could keep everybody quiet by paying pensions from current income and by cutting the wages of new hires, and they could hope to have retired themselves by the time the whole Ponzi scheme collapsed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:51 PM on February 18


The worst, and most outrageous (to my mind) was treating pension entitlements as a current expense rather than a liability. This meant that the cost of staying in business increased every year, and gradually made the business unprofitable.

this isn't really what happened - in fact it would be illegal for an ERISA plan to do that. You accrue for (and fund) the pension liabilities according to an actuarial schedule set up that assumes an average tenor of employment and a certain size of the workforce - GM because it was faced with declining market share, and the automobile industry saw a massive move from labor inputs to capital inputs (mostly through the Japanese) - therefore GM was forced to close plants, reduce employment levels and vest pensions at higher rates given service years and earlier than was assumed. That and healthcare costs inflated at a much much much higher rate than anyone expected.

I actually had a very long conversation once with the UAW's restructuring bankers - suffice to say that while UAW leadership understood the situation for years in advance - they were unable to follow through on much of the advice that they agreed with - because they had to win elections. Populism is just as pernicious in any sort of election. That's also why you get the tiered salary scales. Until the lower tier guys make up a big fraction of the union it is a huge win/win for the leadership.

I'm pretty sure management's inability to design and produce vehicles that could compete with Japanese imports had more of a hand in pricing themselves out of the market.

Well no - for about 20 years prior to the bankruptcy GMs plants were as efficient as the Japanese - and I think often more efficient than the transplants. Its true the designs of the cars sucked - but that was mostly because they had to bake in margin into the cars to pay for the pension deficit. Its not like Rick Wagoner didn't know that his entry level cars looked and felt cheaper - because indeed - they were cheaper.
posted by JPD at 7:29 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


VW workers may block southern U.S. deals if no unions: labor chief
"I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the south again," said Bernd Osterloh, head of VW's works council.

"If co-determination isn't guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor" of potentially building another plant in the U.S. south, Osterloh, who is also on VW's supervisory board, said.

The 20-member panel - evenly split between labor and management - has to approve any decision on closing plants or building new ones.
posted by notyou at 8:03 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Yeah - VW management was not pro-Union out of the kindness of their heart - they need IG Metall to be on board with the big planned expansion in the Americas - which they want to do to diversify their currency risk. What they don't want is for the locals to view N. A. as a lower cost operation that is going to take jobs from Germans. Besides the group already has that in their operations and brands in Eastern Europe.

The other thing to remember is that not only are there labor reps on the supervisory board, but also the Lander they are in is I believe the largest shareholder and has its own reps on the board as part of the shareholders representatives - and the lander is def also in favor of what the workers want.
posted by JPD at 8:50 AM on February 19


Per my understanding, 20% of the shareholder voting rights at Volkswagen lie with Lower Saxony. The works councils and IG Metall also make up a significant part of the Supervisory Board.
posted by frimble at 9:06 AM on February 19


Yes - here is the supervisory board

As you can see there are 20 members - half are labor, 2 are from Lower Saxony, 2 are Qatari - representing their large shareholding, 4 are members of the Porsche/Piech family, and 1 is an Independent Director.

Actually from a corporate governance perspective its a pretty bad board.
posted by JPD at 9:26 AM on February 19


I wish I could have been there when it dawned on those southern right-to-work pols that now, in addition to kowtowing to foreign capital for jobs and investment, they have to kowtow to foreign labor leaders.
posted by notyou at 12:50 PM on February 19


The VW Vote Reconsidered, Charles P. Pierce, Esquire Politics Blog, 19 February 2014
Those people who voted against the UAW in Chattanooga did not do so under actual guns. Nobody was waiting outside the building to beat them up or burn them in their tents. Hell, the damn company was on their side -- or, at least, studiously (and honestly) neutral. And still they could get ginned up in their fear enough not to vote for their own economic self-interest, because they allowed people who they know -- or ought to know -- would sell their jobs to Vietnam for three cents on the dollar to convince them that the UAW was a threat to their livelihoods. At some point, blaming it all on the conjurings of political consultants isn't a sufficient answer any more.

When does it become our fault?
posted by ob1quixote at 1:55 AM on February 20


Robert Reich: Fear is Why Workers in Red States Vote Against Their Economic Self-Interest
Not even now, with the toxins moving down river toward Cincinnati, can the residents of Charleston and the surrounding area be sure their drinking water is safe — partly because the government’s calculation for safe levels is based on a single study by the manufacturer of the toxic chemical, which was never published, and partly because the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies the drinking water, is a for-profit corporation that may not want to highlight any lingering danger.

So why wasn’t more done to prevent this, and why isn’t there more of any outcry even now?

The answer isn’t hard to find. As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizen’s group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia’s Bayer CropScience plant in the state, explained to the New York Times: “We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:29 PM on February 20


After Chattanooga - "Examining the roots of the United Auto Workers’ defeat at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:27 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Lessons from Chattanooga, Sam Gindin, Jacobin, 24 February 2014
posted by ob1quixote at 5:27 PM on February 24


pretty good article although I disagree with his comparison of trying to organize the steel service centers to organizing parts businesses. Most parts bizzes have a higher proportion of fixed costs and require more skilled labor - that gives labor more power usually if the organize. Steel Service centers are mostly variable cost and labor is pretty fungible. Its like trying to organize sub shops.
posted by JPD at 6:09 AM on February 25


Mike Elk: Southern Masculinity and the Anti-Union Campaign at Volkswagen
posted by RogerB at 3:05 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


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