A major setback for the UAW

VW workers in Tennessee have rejected the United Autoworkers Union bid to unionize them. They voted against UAW representation by 712 to 626.

The vote was viewed as a test case for the UAW and for unionization of industrial workers in the South. Accordingly, the Detroit Free Press calls the result a “devastating defeat” for the union. Similarly, Reuters proclaims it “a stinging defeat that could accelerate the decades-long decline of the United Auto Workers.”

The stakes were sufficiently high that President Obama weighed in on behalf of the UAW’s bid. On the other hand, Sen. Bob Corker and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (both Republicans) urged Volkswagen workers to reject the UAW. They expressed concern that VW would be less of a presence in Tennessee if saddled with a union. Obama characteristically accused Corker and Haslam (though not by name) of being more concerned about German shareholders than U.S. workers. Yet it was Corker who, as mayor of Chattanooga, helped persuade VW to come to Tennessee.

In contrast to Honda and Nissan, VW was neutral during the organizing campaign. Following his union’s defeat, UAW president Bob King commended the company’s posture during the election. The absence of company opposition makes the UAW’s defeat all the more stinging.

So it looks like the UAW won’t be making inroads among auto workers in the South. On the bright side, though, I understand that it’s making progress in representing graduate teaching assistants.