This spring, there was a closely fought NLRB election at the VW plant in Chattanooga. Faced with interference by outside corporate interests and craven state officials, the vote narrowly failed. (For more background.) It really looked as if all was lost, then something amazing happened. Last week the UAW and VW announced the establishment of a minority union which will negotiate on behalf of members at the plant.
"We have a consensus agreement with Volkswagen management to form the local and be recognized when we get a majority of the workers to join," said UAW International Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel of Ashland City, who has been overseeing the union's organizing drives at the Southern auto plants for the past several years — unsuccessfully, until now. ....
Although there is no formal recognition by Volkswagen that would let the union represent the entire hourly workforce at the plant, there is a "consensus" agreement between the automaker and UAW, Casteel said.
"What there won't be is exclusive representation," he said.
Unlike exclusive representation, any contract approved with the UAW at the Chattanooga plant under this setup would apply only to union members, Casteel said.
"This is a good thing for us because it's members-only bargaining, and our members might get something in the contract that the rest of the employees won't get."
This new minority union won't collect dues to cover the cost of representation. Federal law doesn't allow this without a successful NLRB election. Faced with the prospect of working people employing their constitutional right to free association, the coalition of the billing active in the effort to interfere with this spring's NLRB election is pissed. Respding to the announcement, Matt Patterson-President of the Center for Worker Freedom- said this:
"I don't know of any case like this, but the whole situation in Chattanooga is bizarre and unique," Patterson said. "They wouldn't be doing this if they didn't have the tacit approval of Volkswagen management."
He said he would be returning to Chattanooga and "talking to some folks about what we can do about this."
I can't help but savor the irony of a man leading a group supposedly organized to support worker freedom, pulling out veiled threats when workers actually exercise their right to freely associate.
There are a lot of factors unique to the UAW-VW case. Most importantly, the fact that VW sees cooperative workplace relations as essential to its business model. (Ultimately, this isn't about charity for VW, it's about making money.)
Nonetheless, what's happening in Tennessee demonstrates that a new organizing model is possible, and in fact this is exactly what's been happening with the Fight for 15 and worker's centers.
First, you organize for collective action in the workplace, then you go for formal representation. Without the canard of "forced unionism" floating around, the argument is made clear.
Either you support the right to free association of all, or reveal yourself to be a hypocrite calling other out for the speck you perceive in their eye, when there's a plank in your own.
There's more to be said here about logistics, but this is the heart of the matter. The right wing loves to talk about how union "coerce" workers into supporting them. If this is really their concern, then they should be supportive of minority unions which depend upon only the free association of members in order to function. The response of people like Matt Peterson above to the very prospect of a minority union gives lie to all the arguments that they like to make about standing for freedom.
Imagine if we rinsed and repeated across the country, forcing these advocates of "freedom" to out themselves as opponents of the constitutional rights of working Americans?
It's easy if you try.
1:12 PM PT: The UAW has released a video on the new local.