Labor unions seeking to stem steady losses within their ranks
are getting creative. The AFL-CIO recently passed a resolution
permitting anyone in the country to join its organization,
regardless of union affiliation. Pushing for passage of this
resolution, AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka proclaimed that "[T]he
success of our movement...is measured by the progress of working
people – all working people – by the lives we lead, by
the hopes and dreams we make real together."
The Volkswagen (VW) manufacturing facility in Tennessee reports
that the United Auto Workers – an AFL-CIO affiliate –
is borrowing the European union vision of progress for working
people to win over VW workers. If successful, bank on unions
mimicking the UAW "gospel" across the United States.
The media has reported, at length, the post-recession resurgence
of American manufacturing. Competition among states to attract
businesses and much needed jobs has led to pro-business state
regulatory environments, employer-friendly labor laws, and generous
tax incentives. Motorola Mobility is to assemble smartphones
in Texas; Apple is to produce Mac computers in Texas with
components manufactured in Illinois, Florida, Kentucky and
Michigan; General Electric brought back manufacturing some water
heaters from China to Kentucky; and Boeing has 787 Dreamliners
flying out of its plant in South Carolina.
International companies are also contributing to increases in
U.S. manufacturing. Beyond VW's Tennessee plant, German
chemical manufacturer BASF invested billions of dollars in its
American plants, and BMW now assembles cars in South
Carolina. Along with new jobs and manufacturing processes,
these companies are importing their concept of the
employer-employee relationship, a concept often "foreign"
to the accepted vision of industrial labor relations in the US.
As an example, VW and the UAW are coordinating efforts to
unionize VW's Tennessee facility and create a German-style
works council. A German "works council" is an
employer-funded, shop-floor organization that discusses company
rules, working conditions, personnel actions, productivity, and
other work issues.
In sharp contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court's
Electromation decision has permitted the National Labor
Relations Board to microscope and frown on employers who create,
fund, and otherwise assist such an organization – a
prohibition Volkswagen hopes to sidestep by partnering with the
UAW. Questions remain, however, about whether VW unlawfully
invited UAW into its Tennessee plant and assisted in the
union's organizing efforts.
Questions also remain about the consequences of a UAW victory at
the Tennessee plant. Would the VW Global Works Council permit
UAW participation? Would the VW Global Works Council influence
negotiations between the UAW and VW over wages, hours, and working
conditions for Tennessee employees, and would such influence
violate U.S. labor laws? Would international disputes and
legal rulings between VW and the Global Works Council impact U.S.
It is far too early to predict whether the VW-UAW joint venture
will succeed, and, if so, whether its message will echo throughout
the US. What is certain, however, is that unions, hungry for
members and their dues, will jump on any action plan that can help
them keep members and attract new ones.
Stay tuned. It won't be boring...
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and is not intended to constitute legal advice.
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