by Dee Newman
Last week while the Tennessee Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga were voting on whether the United Auto Workers (UAW) could represent them, Senator Bob Corker made the following statement:
"I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga."After the vote Volkswagen flatly denied Senator Corker’s claim and the senator has refused to disclose who allegedly told him the SUV production would be determined by the union vote.
If the senator’s statement had been made by a Volkswagen official, it would have surely been a form of interference or coercion that would have violated United States labor law.
As a third party proxy, Senator Corker knew that he was not subject to the National Labor Relations Act and that he could “legally” get away with his intimidating threat.
Though we will never know to what extent Senator Corker's coercive comments may have affected the vote, the UAW lost the election by 86 votes – 712 to 626.
Senator Corker was not the only Tennessee Republican politician who vehemently opposed the unionization of the Volkswagen plant and threatened workers' livelihood if they voted for the UAW.
I completely understand why Republican politicians like Senator Corker oppose labor unions. Republicans have sided with management over labor for generations and management has reciprocated with vast amounts of money to their re-election coffers. They essentially sold their souls a long time ago to those who could benefit them the most – workers be damned.
Republicans do not want workers to band together, to be able to collectively bargain over wages, benefits, and working conditions. They want to maintain management’s unfair advantage over their workers.
Traditionally, Democrats (outside the South) have sided with workers and organized labor. Subsequently, organized labor has usually supported Democratic Party candidates in elections.
This political dynamic is understandable, but a sad reality. However, it is beyond my comprehension how workers (especially in the South) allow themselves to be continually duped and manipulated by Republican politicians to vote against their on interests.
Collective bargaining (the idea that workers as a group have more strength or bargaining power if they collaborate than they do if they try to negotiate with their employer individually) is not only a legal right in the United States, it is essential to our economy and to our nation as a whole as it helps to promote an ownership society that empowers our citizenry.
One of the main reasons why the middle class has become increasingly smaller and income inequality has grown significantly over the last three decades is because of the decline of organized labor.
In 1935 Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act, guaranteeing basic rights of private sector employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining for better terms and conditions at work, and take collective action including strikes if necessary. The act also created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which conducts elections that can require employers to engage in collective bargaining with labor unions.
Unfortunately, our legal right to engage in collective bargaining has never been recognized by the United States Supreme Court as a constitutional right. Therefore, as an act of Congress, collective bargaining could be taken away as easily as it was given.
Though collective bargaining has allowed workers the ability to gain rights and respect in the workplace, Republican politicians have opposed the law from the get-go.
Fundamentally, this should not be a political issue. As a society, we must stop politicizing human rights. As individuals, we must all take responsibility in critically assessing the motives of those who wish to take away the fundamental human right of collective bargaining.
After the votes were tallied in Chattanooga, Senator Corker offered a brief statement saying that he was "thrilled for the employees at Volkswagen and for our community and its future." I wonder how much the senator's campaign for re-election will receive from Volkswagen management for his support and coercive comments?