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Organized Labor is stuck in the 20th Century E-mail
Saturday, 09 September 2017 14:42


GUEST COLUMN, F. Vincent Vernuccio, Former Dept. of Labor official under President George W. Bush

Labor Day has come and gone, but the baggage of organized labor’s outdated business model remains. In recent years, some unions have pressured 21st-century workplaces built on efficiency and competitiveness with 20th-century coercion tactics aimed at self-preservation.

Look no further than the United Auto Workers (UAW), the country’s largest automobile union. Last month, the UAW lost a unionization vote at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi after spending more than a decade pitching Nissan workers. More than 60 percent of employees voted against the union, skeptical that the UAW would make their lives any different. Veteran workers at the factory already make roughly $26 an hour—well above Mississippi’s median wage. In the words of one employee: “I have four weeks’ vacation. I’m off on every holiday. Nissan has provided a great living for me.”

Others were concerned about the UAW’s misuse of member dues. Earlier this summer, the union was implicated in an alleged $2.2 million scam. Alphons Iacobelli, a former Fiat Chrysler negotiator, allegedly used UAW training funds to pay for a $350,000 Ferrari 458 Spider, two Mont Blanc pens valued at $37,500 each, and a swimming pool. Monica Morgan-Holiefield, the widow of former UAW vice president General Holiefield, allegedly spent funds to pay off a mortgage and buy $30,000 in airline tickets. More recently, former UAW associate director Virdell King pled guilty to misusing funds that were intended to train and retrain blue-collar workers.

It’s no wonder that Nissan employees said “no, thank you” to the union. But the UAW—wary of slumping union membership rates—won’t go down without a fight. From complaints with the National Labor Relations Board to public relations campaigns and home visits, UAW leadership prides itself on intimidating employees and hard sell tactics for employees to get them to submit. The union’s modus operandi is to gain “exclusive representation” of a workplace by any means necessary.

It’s an outdated approach in a rapidly evolving U.S. economy. A few U.S. companies are experimenting with moving away from exclusive representation to a more democratic system, whereby multiple unions can voluntarily represent workers who want the union if they register a certain percentage of support among employees. There is no pressure, neither on employees nor the employer.

Volkswagen’s policy at its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, for example, states that the company will recognize any union that can show it represents at least 15 percent of employees. If two unions can each demonstrate 15 percent support, then Volkswagen will negotiate with two unions. The company will bestow greater privileges upon unions that prove they represent more workers, which includes use of company facilities and meetings with Volkswagen’s human resources department and executive committee. Unlike unions of old, this model is completely up to the union, employees, and the company to come to a mutually voluntary agreement. There is no force and there is no intimidation.

The UAW is trying to carve out a small subset of workers for exclusive representation in Chattanooga. (It already lost a plant-wide election there.) But its preference—as evidenced by the recent vote in Mississippi—is for a monopoly of all employees, exposing employees to a one size fits all union contract.

Employees have every reason to worry about a UAW monopoly. Consider the UAW’s sordid history in California: General Motors’ original Fremont plant, unionized by the UAW in 1962 and closed in 1982, had significant problems. Roughly 6,000 workers lost their jobs when the plant closed in 1982.

It gets worse. The original Fremont plant was revived as part of a General Motors-Toyota partnership, only to close again in 2010. The factory had operated at half-capacity in its last two years of existence, running severe deficits. About 4,700 employees lost their jobs.

Now the UAW is back in Fremont, trying to intimidate the automaker Tesla into giving it a third chance. Given the union’s track record, it would be three too many.




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