Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A novel approach to unionizing

Posted by on Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 11:18 AM

An interesting experiment in unionizing is happening in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

According to the Washington Post's Wonkblog, this week 1,570 workers at a Volkswagen plant in the city will vote this week whether to join the United Auto Workers union. And UAW and Volkswagen both want them to vote yes.

That the union and the automaker are on the same page seems odd, but there's a reason; they want to pilot something called a works council, which VW and another German automaker, BMW, use in their European factories. Wonkblog explains the arrangement and its benefits:
While the details of the arrangement would be ironed out after the election, works councils — which are elected by all workers in a factory, both blue and white collar, whether or not they belong to the union — usually help decide things like staffing schedules and working conditions, while the union bargains on wages and benefits. They have the right to review certain types of information about how the company is doing financially, which often means that they're more sympathetic towards management's desire to make cutbacks when times are tough. During the recession, for example, German works councils helped the company reduce hours across the board rather than laying people off, containing unemployment until the economy recovered.
But we're talking about a factory in a southern state, where there is strong anti-union sentiment. Some of the factory workers oppose unionizing the plant, as shown in this Wall Street Journal article. And a group of Republican state lawmakers are threatening to do away with VW's state tax incentives if it sides with UAW, says a Detroit Free Press article published yesterday.

The whole works council approach is novel, and could provide an interesting path forward for organizing other workplaces. That's why workers, corporate officials, and union organizers ought to pay attention to the VW-UAW collaboration and the efforts to kill it.

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