In the recent defeat of organized work in the South, workers at a Volkswagen factory in Tennessee rejected an effort to form a union this week.
Of the approximately 1,600 employees who voted, 833 opposed the organizational work, according to the Results released late Friday. United Automobile Workers have been trying to organize the factory in Chattanooga for years, recording a narrow defeat in 2014. "Our employees have spoken," said CEO Frank Fischer in a statement. "We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the elected officials and business leaders in Tennessee."
Work leaders have long focused on the South, which they consider important to secure victories for workers around the country. But despite sustained organization work across the region – including at a Nissan facility in Mississippi, a Toyota factory in Kentucky and a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama – the Union has repeatedly failed to gain a foothold in the region.
The possibility that a company or competitors can move production to thinly unionized southern states can put pressure on workers elsewhere to accept lower wages and make other concessions.
The salary for Volkswagen production workers in Chattanooga starts at $ 15.50 per hour, which will increase to $ 16 in July. The plant's top $ 23.50 salary is well above the median in Chattanooga, but about 20 percent below what experienced workers can do on unionized plants by automakers like General Motors and Ford. No major foreign car manufacturers have unions in the United States.
The loss marked the difficulty of organizing private individuals in a political environment that is obviously hostile to trade unions, even though workers have gained gains through collective action elsewhere. Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee, who previously ran a contracting company, opposed U.A.W. campaign because he said the presence of a union would make it more difficult for the state to attract other businesses.
Mr. Lee visited the facility and spoke to employees about his objections.
Wilma Liebman, a leader of the National Labor Union under President Barack Obama, said she had never heard of a governor appearing just before workers to lobby them to vote against the union representation. Mr. Lee's office did not respond to requests for comment.
State Secretary Robin Smith, a republican whose district contains the facility, had said that a decision to unite could threaten thousands of dollars in future government incentives for the company. 19659005] "It is much easier to defend incentives, use of tax money, when entering an investment that follows our state's philosophy," Smith said. In an interview.
Pressure from politicians has been a recurring function of organizing campaigns in the south. Opposition from Gov. Phil Bryant from Mississippi helped defeat a U.A.W. organization campaign at a Nissan facility in 2017, and Gov's antagonism. Nikki Haley seemed to have a similar effect on the Boeing South Carolina plant in 2015, causing the Union to cast a vote.
U.A.W. Also blamed his defeat in 2014 on the Volkswagen plant on the aggressive resistance of local politicians. Bob Corker, a senator of that time, said that a union would make the company less competitive and indicated that leaders would add a production line to the plant only if workers voted down an association.
Volkswagen also changed its position against the association after that campaign. In 2014, the company proclaimed itself neutral and even encouraged the organizational work. It considered the union as a way of creating a "business council", a common function in Germany, where workers and management work together on issues such as factory rules and schedules. Almost all of the company's other plants worldwide are unionized.
This time, Volkswagen was also officially neutral, but the position was much more resistant. The company's election website for informed workers that "we prefer to continue our direct relationship with you, work together as one team" – that type of language company often uses to indicate opposition to a union.
"It's definitely different," said Matt Sexton, a Volkswagen worker who was also involved in the organization work this year. "There is no neutrality at all." He said that, unlike last, supervisors had made anti-union comments in meetings and that the organizers had not been allowed to campaign inside the facility.
Mr. Fischer remembered that production in the Pennsylvania plant had started in the first half of 1978, and that in October of that year there were strikes. "The Volkswagen controller has never managed to run the facility before it was shut down in 1988," he said on the recording.
In 2015, a small group of maintenance staff at the Chattanooga facility voted to unite, but Volkswagen refused to negotiate with them, leading to litigation.
When the UAW filed for election with the National Labor Union Council this year, the company protested on the grounds that the case that involved the smaller trade union was still pending, forcing the association to send its petition back to a vote after it withdrew the previous case .
Workers and organizers also took a more conventional approach this time, emphasizing the benefits of a union on issues such as security and planning.
"In 2014, there was a strong focus on how unionization was a necessary legal prerequisite for implementing VW's co-determination management system," said Daniel Cornfield, a sociologist studying work at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "In 2019, the pro-union campaign is much more focused on traditional US organizational problems."
Mr. Sexton said he and other workers were becoming increasingly upset because the production teams were understaffed, leading to greater stress on workers and more injuries. He said the plant's medical team was often unsympathetic, pronounced injuries due to "existing conditions" and sending workers back to the line.
He also said that management often planned overtime shortly before the end of the shift, contrary to Volkswagen's own guidelines.
Herr. Fischer, who was the CEO of the plant until 2014 and returned this spring, said in the recording that he was focused on correcting some of these issues, such as overtime practice.
The company said the injury rates were well below the industry average, and that workers who were evaluated at the on-site medical clinic were allowed to return to work only when they were medically cleared. It said it had reduced overtime in recent years to make planning more predictable and now demanded overtime not be canceled if it was called.
Keri Menendez, an employee active in opposing the association, acknowledged that morale had deteriorated somewhat in recent years. But she said she was generally satisfied with her pay and benefits, and that having a union could interfere with the open door relationship she had with her supervisor.
"I'm not a person who thinks the grass is always greener on the other side," said Mrs Menendez.