US Volkswagen workers win union recognition

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UNITED AUTOWORKERS (UAW) officials on Saturday applauded workers’ ‘courage and persistence’ after a vote on union recognition at VW’s Chattanooga plant and urged Volkswagen to respect the decision.

Skilled trades employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant have voted overwhelmingly to designate UAW Local 42 as their representative for the purpose of initiating collective bargaining. In a two-day election on Thursday and Friday, 152 skilled trades employees cast ballots.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which supervised the election, confirmed that 71% of employees voting favoured recognition for Local 42. Federal law provides for units within a workforce to seek recognition for the purpose of achieving collective bargaining.

‘A key objective for our local union always has been moving toward collective bargaining for the purpose of reaching a multi-year contract between Volkswagen and employees in Chattanooga,’ said Mike Cantrell, president of Local 42.

‘We have said from the beginning of Local 42 that there are multiple paths to reach collective bargaining. We believe these paths will give all of us a voice at Volkswagen in due time.’ Cantrell reiterated that the timing of the skilled trades election is unrelated to the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

In its election petition to the NLRB, Local 42 noted that its members asked Volkswagen to recognise the local union as the bargaining representative of skilled trades employees in early August – more than a month before the emissions scandal was revealed.

Looking ahead, Cantrell said Local 42 will communicate immediately with Volkswagen leaders, in the US and Germany, about initiating collective bargaining for the skilled trades employees at the earliest possible date.

Collective bargaining is a common practice between employees and employers in the US. The NLRB describes collective bargaining as an effort between an employer and employees to ‘bargain in good faith about wages, hours, vacation time, insurance, safety practices and other subjects’.

Ray Curry, director of UAW Region 8 covering the South, commended Volkswagen employees for exercising their rights in a representation election. Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga have had a long journey in the face of intense political opposition, and they have made steady progress,’ Curry said.

‘We’re proud of their courage and persistence. We urge Volkswagen to respect the decision of its employees and recognise the local union as the representative of the skilled trades unit.’ Local 42 has strong support among blue-collar workers in the Chattanooga plant – the only Volkswagen facility in the world that remains unrepresented on the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, the influential body of employee leaders from around the world.

Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the international union’s Transnational Department, said the UAW will continue pressing Volkswagen to fulfil an earlier commitment. In spring 2014, Volkswagen agreed to recognise a UAW local union as the representative of its members in order for the union’s members and the company to enter into collective bargaining.

Casteel urged Volkswagen to drop its plans to appeal the outcome of today’s election.

‘It’s overdue time for Volkswagen to refocus on the values that made it a successful brand – environmental sustainability and meaningful employee representation,’ Casteel said.

‘The hard-working members of UAW Local 42 stand ready to assist in the Volkswagen comeback story. Our hope is that the company now is ready to move forward in the German spirit of co-determination.’

• The UAW has released the following statement on TPP: ‘Today the International Executive Board of the UAW unanimously voted to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Over the past several years we met with the Administration, trade negotiators, members of Congress, and an array of stakeholders on the TPP. From the outset we constructively worked in pursuit of an ambitious agreement that creates prosperity both here and abroad for working families.

‘After analysing and discussing the text of the now publicly released agreement we have concluded the TPP, regrettably, fails and repeats many of the mistakes of prior trade agreements that contributed to stagnant wages, rising income inequality, and plant closings in the United States. The stakes are high as forty per cent of the world’s economy is in the balance. The scope of the agreement will increase as Indonesia, China, South Korea, Thailand and other nations could join over time.

‘If ratified, TPP will impact our nation for generations to come. It touches nearly every aspect of our daily lives. It will impact the food we eat, the air we breathe, the medicines we take, and the cars we drive. We are concerned by the ramifications of the TPP because it puts the interests of corporations and their pursuit of overseas profits in the driver’s seat.

‘We already know what happens when overseas profits are put before working families. We had a trade surplus with Mexico in 1993, the year before North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented. Supporters of the trade agreement promised new jobs. Instead, US trade deficits with Mexico cost almost 700,000 US jobs by 2010. Most of the jobs displaced were in manufacturing. Nearly every auto manufacturer and supplier has increased their operations in Mexico with the hopes of increasing their exports to the United States and elsewhere.

‘US corporations took advantage of NAFTA’s extraordinary investor protections trade liberalisation and low wages to outsource US jobs. Foreign direct investment tripled in Mexico since NAFTA according to the IMF. The TPP includes many of the same investor protections as NAFTA. US laws, including Buy America laws, are jeopardised as foreign investors seek damages in private courts to protest laws supporting US jobs and protect consumers.

‘Mexican workers also suffered under NAFTA. More than two million subsistence farmers have been forced from their land. Mexican workers are often put in harm’s way for exercising their most basic rights. Most make less than $4 dollars an hour despite booming profits and record growth for the industry. Company unions more aligned with employers than workers dominate and exclude independent unions and unbiased participants. The TPP does not create a concrete, enforceable plan to ensure basic rights for Mexican workers.

‘TPP backers argue the labour chapter will effectively address structural problems found in Mexico and elsewhere. Unfortunately the chapter often relies on terms without definitions. For example, while countries are required to adopt and maintain laws to provide for a minimum wage, that wage could be set at 5¢ per hour. Many TPP countries notoriously repress workers’ rights and there is no reason to think they will not maintain the status quo.

‘Manufacturing jobs are falling behind as 600,000 manufacturing workers make just $9.60 per hour or less and one out of every four make less than $12. Congress should work with the Administration to enact an array of policies to reverse this trend. Sadly, the TPP is counterproductive and undermines the future of domestic manufacturing. Competitive pressures from low wage countries will increase as remaining US tariffs on manufactured goods are eliminated. The Wall Street Journal projects the combined US trade deficit in manufacturing, including autos and auto parts will increase by $55.8 billion under the TPP over the next ten years. The impact will probably be worse.

‘UAW members know what the offshoring of jobs does to communities. The TPP will create more incentives for companies to move operations to low wage countries. The auto Rules of Origin (ROO) Standard is unacceptable as over half of the value of a car or truck could be built by countries that are not in the agreement and still receive benefits. To make matters worse the threshold for many auto parts is 35%. By comparison, NAFTA’s standard is 62.5%. This is another reason why the TPP is worse than NAFTA.

‘We call on Congress to reject the TPP.’