By any reasonable assessment, the odds are against the United Auto Workers. But the union is going ahead anyway with its effort to nullify a vote by Volkswagen assembly plant workers in Chattanooga, Tenn. to reject UAW representation. On Friday, February 21, only hours before expiration of the seven-day deadline, the union filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to overturn the election, decided by a 712-to-626 margin. The outcome was a bitter pill to swallow. A victory would have served as a springboard for organizing drives at foreign-owned auto plants elsewhere in the South.
All eyes, it seemed, were on Tennessee. The stakes were enormous. If the United Auto Workers got to represent employees at the Volkswagen assembly plant near Chattanooga, which opened in 2011, it could create more organizing successes throughout the South. That gambit now is on hold. Last Friday, February 14, the announcement from VW came: Plant employees, by a 712-to-626 margin, voted to reject UAW representation. In choosing to remain nonunion, the majority expressed their preference for resolving wage, benefit and working conditions issues through a German-style 'works council' rather than formal collective bargaining; VW headquarters has instituted such councils at virtually all its plants around the world.
Membership in the United Auto Workers has declined dramatically these past few decades. But its officials at last may have found a way to recapture the glory days: Team up with the Germans. Last month, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., alleged that an activist board member of Volkswagen Group forced the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker to disclose that it was negotiating with the UAW to unionize its Chattanooga assembly plant. This factory, like other foreign-owned plants in the South, is nonunion. The powerful German union, IG Metall, and VW management are backing the UAW's campaign to change that. The UAW recently announced that a majority of workers there had signed cards indicating their desire to join.
Chrysler recently reported a 4th quarter loss of $652 million. So what does a UAW majority owned company that is losing money do? How about a bonus for UAW workers?
Current Chrysler ownership breakdown puts the UAW at a 63.5% ownership stake while the US Treasury holds a 9.2% stake. Italy's Fiat currently owns 25%. Bonuses planned for UAW workers are estimated to average $750.
The New York Timesreports that the auto industry "overhaul" (AKA General Motors' bankruptcy) is about to "pay off handsomely" for UAW workers at GM. GM, along with Ford, is expected to announce profit-sharing checks for hourly workers this month. UAW president, Bob King, states that workers expect to get a piece of GM's profits.
Earlier this month, General Motors made a $4 billion cash contribution to its UAW pension fund. Reports state that an additional $2 billion worth of GM common stock will be contributed to the fund. What is not being reported is where the stock is coming from.
In addition to public ownership since the IPO, GM common shares are currently held by the US Treasury, Canadian Government, the UAW and Motors Liquidation Company (creditors of Old GM). Unless the US Treasury is giving away taxpayer shares, new shares will have to be issued for an additional $2 billion worth of common shares to fund UAW pension plans.