UAW Crushed. What Comes Next?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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No wonder they wanted card check:  I remember, toward the end of the last Bush administration,  whippersnappers all the confident young Dem policy warriors repeating labor’s talking points about the need to allow the secret ballot in union recognition elections to be replaced by “card check,” a system in which workers sign cards in the presence of union organizers. Without card check, management would “coerce” workers by pointing out the downside of unionization in mandatory propaganda meetings.

Wasn’t it possible that workers who turned down unions simply looked at what Wagner Act unionism had done, say, to Detroit, and decided for themselves that this wasn’t what they wanted to happen to their company? Nah.

Now we know different: At Vokswagen’s Chattanooga factory, the UAW was actually welcomed by the employer. No union-busting propganada sessions. VW, which already has a powerful union back home in Europe, wanted to set up German-style “works councils,” where rank and file employees could have a say in production decisions. But, according to many U.S. labor lawyers, it needed a union partner — otherwise, under the Wagner Act the works councils would be considered an illegal “company union.” The UAW seemed ready to be that partner. UAW organizers were allowed in the plant to make their case. Management didn’t argue back.**

The union even claimed to have a majority of signed “cards.”***

But, in a secret ballot election,  the workers still said no. We learned Friday that VW’s Chattanooga employees had voted against unionizing by a margin of  712 to 626. The UAW couldn’t even win an election it had been handed on a silver platter by management.

The most interesting part comes next: If Volkswagen now goes ahead and starts its works councils anyway, without the UAW, will organized labor sue to have them declared illegal? That would give the Roberts Court a precious opportunity to interpret the Wagner Act in a way that actually allows non-legalistic, non-adversarial forms of worker participation in management (despite the “company union” prohibition). In effect, the courts could help VW create what those on the left have been (correctly) demanding of the right: a reasonable alternative to traditional unionism, giving workers a voice without subjecting every management decision to a war of bargainers and lawyers and (ultimately) the formalized pitched battle of a strike.

Now that would be a threat to Big Labor. Which is why they might not sue.


**–Though local politicians, like Sen. Bob Corker, did.  President Obama sided with the UAW, at least behind closed doors.

***–The cards apparently contained distracting language about wanting to join VW’s works council. If the union did have a majority of cards, of course, it has now provided us with a near-textbook example of the difference between a) a secret ballot and b) signing a piece of paper in the presence of union representatives.

Mickey Kaus