United Auto Workers President Bob King's abrupt decision Monday to abandon his effort to overturn his union's defeat at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant raises the question of how sincere the whole effort was in the first place. Did he ever really think he could have somehow reversed his union's rejection by Volkswagen employees? Or was his complaint to the National Labor Relations Board just an elaborate attempt to paint the UAW as the victim and save face?
That King withdrew the complaint before the board could actually hear the case — but after it had generated two months of news stories repeating UAW’s cries of “no fair!” — suggest that, yes, it was all just for show.
|But it was a big loss for a union in decline on a vote its leaders expected to win. They had to spin it somehow.|
To be fair to King, he had to save face. After all, the union had gone into the election with virtually every advantage possible. Volkswagen was not opposing unionization. In fact, it was actually helping the UAW out under pressure from its German union. Company executives had publicly dropped hints that having a union at the Chattanooga plant would boost the chances that Volkswagen would add a new SUV line there. Plant managers also did more overt things like force workers to attend mandatory meetings to hear from union organizers. Anti-union groups were barred from the plant.
Union leaders have long claimed that they only lose elections because of management obstruction. Well, here was a case in which the company gave the union direct access to the workers. And they still rejected the union. The only thing Volkswagen did not agree to do was to skip a worker election altogether. King had pushed the company to accept signed cards from the union showing that a majority of workers wanted UAW representation. If that were really the case, an election should have just confirmed the “card check” vote. But it didn't — the vote was 712-626 against the UAW.
Maybe workers worried that the UAW would do to Tennessee what it did to now-bankrupt Detroit. Or maybe their suspicions were aroused by the way the union and management were colluding. Or maybe they were just happy with their jobs and didn't think paying union dues would make things better. But it was a big loss for a union in decline on a vote its leaders expected to win. They had to spin it somehow.
King claimed anti-union comments by state Republican officials like Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam had somehow “tainted” the election. When they refused to testify, King used that as his excuse to back out.
But as the UAW conceded Monday: “Even if the NLRB ordered a new election ... nothing would stop politicians and anti-union organizations from again interfering." In other words, they would have lost again.