Historic Union Vote at Volkswagen in Tennessee

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Today is the third and final day of a historic union vote for workers at Volkswagen in Tennessee, in which workers will decide whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

As explained by my friend and mentor Harley Shaiken in this opinion piece, this is an unusual case. The employer, VW, is neutral rather than opposed to unionization. Moreover, VW and the UAW have the opportunity to pilot within the United States a new, more collaborative model of U.S. labor relations, using shop floor "works councils" for day-to-day worker participation in problem-solving to raise productivity, quality, and adaptability.

The results are expected to be in by about 11:30 p.m., and as soon I hear what they are, I'll let you know in another blog post.

Here's a link to Harley on the PBS Newshour debating Vincent Vernuccio of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a "free market research center." As Harley explains, Vernuccio's convoluted arguments are "anti-union feeling masquerading as an argument."

If workers vote for the union, it could be a critical step forward in the reinvention of labor relations to mesh with our 21st century economy. As explained further on Keystone Research Center's "new unionism" page, adapting to new circumstances — in this case by developing union models that fit both a global, innovation economy and the huge number of jobs (especially low-wage jobs) in service industries — is always difficult. Adapting to the new economy is more difficult for labor organziations because many employers seek to coerce workers not to form a labor union, and policymakers (e.g., in Tennessee) and courts are hostile to worker organization.

So hats off to VW for staying neutral. And good luck to VW workers, their employer, and the UAW as they try to create a new template for manufacturing labor relations.

Part of the broader context for the VW vote is that America can't solve the problem of economic inequality — and keep alive the America Dream of widespread upward mobility — without a growth of unionism in the private sector. If union models grow that work collaboratively with employers in the workplace and on issues such as training and careers, while also negotiating to create middle-class wages and benefits, then we can have a STRONGER economy as well as one that's more humane and moral.


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