Just a reminder of the open-house kickoff of my campaign to serve on our State Democratic Executive Committee. Becky and I welcome you to our home, 1714 North Hills Blvd. Drop by anytime between 3 and 7 pm tomorrow (Sunday, March 23rd). Remember to ask Becky about frog tours.
Because of my campaign for party office, I am on hiatus from News Sentinel columns. I will seek publication elsewhere, including here at Knoxviews. Here is the column that would have been printed this month...
Harold Woods was a husband, father, Green Beret, United Way and Boy Scout volunteer, and labor leader. He stood up for workers, organized or not, especially their safety and their health care. I was proud to know this good man, and saddened when out community lost him on January 20th.
Then, as if to spit on Woods’ grave, our governor began a drumbeat of threats about a forthcoming unionization vote at the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant. Governor Bill Haslam spoke with disdain about unionization, and connected the issue to state incentives, the potential to draw supplier companies, and the possible gain or loss of a planned new SUV line.
State Senator Bo Watson took the opportunity to say that UAW representation in Chattanooga would mean the end of any additional state incentives. State Representative Gerald McCormick opined any unionization “was not part of the deal.”
Tennessee’s U. S. Senator Bob Corker initially declared, “While the decision is in the hands of the employees, I do not think it is appropriate for me to make additional public comment.”
Apparently, however, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to burnish further his anti-union credentials. The first day of the three-day unionization voting period was February 12th. That night Corker claimed he learned from a secret, unnamed Volkswagen source that the company would scrap a planned new SUV line in Chattanooga if the United Auto Workers won the vote.
As the CEO of the plant scrambled to deny Coker’s mysteriously sourced claim, the voting continued that Thursday. Corker pressed forward, doubling down on his veiled threat—insisting in press statement and interviews that it came from a company source; all the while the voting proceeded.
Corker specifically claimed that if the union lost the vote Volkswagen would announce production of the SUV line at Chattanooga within two weeks. United Auto Workers lost in a close vote. The two weeks came and went with no such announcement.
Corker’s disingenuous response to his embarrassment was to run to a friendly forum, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. He tried to frame the issue as one of free expression. It isn’t that, of course. Corker, Haslam, Watson, and McCormick are all free at any time to bloviate their anti-union sentiments. If they want, they can craft a worker piñata and hit it with a stick.
The problem is with tantalizing promises of specific job gains with an anti-union vote or threats of specific job losses with a pro-union vote—and making those threats during the conduct of a union representation vote. Such an act clearly could violate National Labor Relations Board rules on the conduct of a fair vote.
The great irony is that Volkswagen has no problem with worker representation. Its global factories typically have worker councils, and those councils play a substantial, cooperative, and helpful role in everything from improved productivity to workplace conditions. A company-established union would run afoul of U. S. law, so VW was fine with a United Auto Workers vote.
The executives of Volkswagen surely must be perplexed by what went on in Chattanooga. Several conservative organizations put on a full-court press against unionization. The most visible sign of it was 13 billboards, one of which conflated the issue with support for President Obama. Those forces appear to have a victory, but it is a tainted and short-lived one. In their zeal to appeal to anti-union factions and benefactors, our state’s elected officials clearly went too far—especially Corker’s threat during the voting period. I hope VW simply joins UAW’s complaint and sets the stage for a new vote. If not, I trust NLRB will find it patently obvious that great wrong to a fair election was done in Tennessee.
Perry C. Cotham wrote a 1995 book Toil, Turmoil & Triumph: A Portrait of the Tennessee Labor Movement. He declared, “Perhaps the most dominant theme running through this history is the power of the state of Tennessee pitted against the aims and strategies of unionized workers.” Now we see that nothing has gotten better in the intervening years. When that new representation vote happens, I trust the public will keep a sharper eye on our pandering politicians. We could call the effort the Harold Woods Memorial Watchdog Project.Mark Harmon's blog | | |