The role of unions, in particular United Auto Workers (UAW), has changed drastically from the time of Ford, but a vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga may decide the future of how these organizations interface and interact with global/international corporations. This week, a vote among the plants workers will decide very simply if the majority of the workers will choose to be represented by the union.
The UAW is looking to secure a deal as a representative of the workers in Chattanooga to gain foothold in areas besides the more common Detroit companies. The alternative, however, looks grim for the UAW:
A loss, however, would be devastating, given that VW has all but invited the UAW into the Chattanooga plant to help create a German-style labor council that would give workers a say in corporate decisions about new products and manufacturing sites.
“If they don’t get this one, then there’s no hope for them anytime soon to have any success with BMW or Daimler,” says Steve Silvia, a professor at American University who recently wrote a book on German labor relations. “And the Japanese and Korean plants are reaches even beyond the German plants.”
As a current union worker myself, I know some of the implications that these kind of negotiations can have. The positive effects could range from stable schedules, retirement opportunities, expanded healthcare plans and options, regulated pay increases/promotions, and legal bargaining power on the side of the worker in class-action suits. More of the potential power lies within the political sway and lobbying power that unions hold today as well.
Negative effects are a little more broad, ranging from small-scale problems like non-competitive work environments, and more large-scale ones such as the effects on the local and state economy whenever other corporations start looking towards the state as an investment opportunity. In particular, if a union forms and proves itself to be unmanageable or too costly for certain corporations to engage with, it can prevent economic growth in the state.
Personally, I’ve found unions to be overall beneficial at my workplace, and they’ve provided me with a certain amount of job security as well as stead pay increases. However, they aren’t as powerful as most people think of them historically, and every new union contract we get, more and more things are cut from the agreements for new workers. In an age where there are alternative retirement and medical insurance plans being offered by the government, the role of the union might be replaced by the government, a broader and potentially more powerful representation of the people. Even if the UAW scores a success in Chattanooga, it may not be long before the idea of unions become irrelevant.