Deal’s a Deal 

United Auto Workers, State of Tennessee Find Middle Ground

But who really came out ahead on this one? It will be remembered that, from last fall through the spring, certain high-ranking Tennessee officials tangled in dead earnest with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union about the prospect of the UAW becoming recognized as a bargaining agent for workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. With some justice, it would seem, the UAW accused Senator Bob Corker, Governor Bill Haslam, and various members of the state legislature of unfair labor practices in the wake of a narrow loss for the UAW in a representational vote held in February of this year.

In the run-up to that election, Senator Corker said publicly, in the face of denials from VW officials, that Volkswagen would manufacture a mid-sized SUV at the Chattanooga plant — so long as the UAW bid was rejected. Bo Watson, speaker pro tem of the state Senate, threatened legislation to withdraw state financial concessions from VW if the union won the vote. And Haslam piled on by saying he thought suppliers would think twice about serving a unionized plant. You wouldn't want to call that interference or arm-twisting, now, would you? And the state used carrots as well as sticks, reportedly offering Volkswagen an additional $300 million in cash and tax credits, contingent, as The Detroit News put it, on "'works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction' of the state."

The reference to "works councils" is to the unvarying policy at Volkswagen plants worldwide for workers to be organized as an official part of plant management. Company officials not only had not sided with the naysaying, union-fearing Tennessee officials, they had pointedly welcomed the UAW's overtures and said publicly that a union at the Chattanooga plant would facilitate the implementation of the aforesaid works councils.

After its defeat in the Chattanooga vote, UAW, armed with the evidence of interference from state officials, initially appealed the election results to the National Labor Relations Board, but, suddenly and surprisingly, withdrew the appeal in April.

Silence, until last week, when several things happened in rapid sequence. First, VW and the UAW announced jointly that the union would establish a local at the plant on the understanding that it would become an official bargaining agent when enough workers signed up for it. As an apparent corollary, the chief UAW bargaining agent was added to the plant's advisory board. Then, mere days later, VW announced that it would indeed begin building a new SUV line in Chattanooga.

So what's the deal? Corker et al. used the SUV announcement to claim vindication for their prior position. But, given what some observers say is a better than even chance that the UAW will reach its quota for official representation within a year, the union might equally well claim to have triumphed, however delayed the full fruition of it turns out to be.

It looks to us like one of those deals in which, as the proverb has it, "all have won and all must have prizes." And that's okay.

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