The UAW vows to rise up and fight again. But it should reevaluate venturing into hostile territory.
The Battle of Chattanooga in 1863 was a turning point for the Union during the Civil War.
Ulysses Grant soundly defeated the Confederates at Lookout Mountain. This led to Sherman’s march through the South and the burning of Atlanta.
Last week, there was another major Battle of Chattanooga. This time it was the union that lost, as the United Auto Workers failed to organize at a plant owned by, one of many international automakers with production facilities in the South.
With membership down 75% since 1980, a desperate UAW needs an infusion of new members to remain viable and to give it a renewed sense of relevancy.
Tennessee is one of the more unionized states in the South, particularly in Chattanooga. It seemed like the best strategic place for the UAW to mount an offensive.
Everyone was watching every move. No one can claim this election wasn’t closely monitored. The final tally: 712 against, 626 for.
VW wisely chose not to fight the union, but rather allowed its workers to settle the issue. VW and the UAW went so far as to agree to incorporate a European-style works council, a collaborative employee-management board.
The union claims politicians influenced the election, but there was pressure from third parties on both sides of the issues.
Toyota,, Kia, Mercedes, , , BMW and other international nameplates have invested huge amounts of money in production facilities in Southern states that were in desperate need of such economic development.
If organizing the $1 billion VW plant in Chattanooga was the UAW’s best chance at gaining a foothold in the South, it’s fair to say the Detroit-based union is facing an uphill battle recruiting and organizing workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, AL, theplant in Canton, MS, and elsewhere below the Mason-Dixon line.
Even though UAW President Bob King is holding indignant press conferences (that’s his job) and saying it is only a temporary setback, this Battle of Chattanooga is yet another UAW failure to capture the fort.
Why did the majority of VW workers reject the union?
The answer is simple on many levels. Most VW employees in Chattanooga feel they are better off without the UAW.
International automakers who own local plants treat their U.S. workers well. Conditions are already good and most workers consider their employers to be fair. In some cases, a non-union VW worker on the high end of the scale earns more money than a new hire who belongs to the UAW and works for, or .
Japanese automakers and other non-domestic manufacturers have a reputation for inspiring employee loyalty. Based on that alone, it will be hard to unionize transplant factories.
Injustice on the job, which was the UAW’s ax to swing against up North, doesn’t resonate with auto workers down South.
Resentment is another factor contributing to the UAW’s defeat in Chattanooga. The UAW isn’t as loved here.
So the second Battle of Chattanooga goes into the history books. The UAW vows to rise up and fight again. But it should reevaluate venturing into hostile territory.
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Jim Ziegler president of Ziegler Supersystems based in metro Atlanta, is a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. WardsAuto readers also may comment on this article by logging in or registering below.