Conservative group's anti-union effort to target U.S. auto plants

WASHINGTON Mon Feb 17, 2014 4:02pm EST

Workers assemble built-in appliances at the Whirlpool manufacturing plant in Cleveland, Tennessee August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Berry

Workers assemble built-in appliances at the Whirlpool manufacturing plant in Cleveland, Tennessee August 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Chris Berry

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A conservative group that helped defeat an organizing campaign by the United Auto Workers in Tennessee will take its anti-union fight to other auto plants in the South, its leaders said on Monday.

The Center for Worker Freedom, which is linked to anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, plans to renew its battle against the UAW at plants in Alabama and Mississippi where the union wants to organize.

"Those are likely the next big ones for the UAW," said Matt Patterson, executive director of the center. "We'll be there."

The UAW suffered a bitter setback on Friday when employees at the Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted 712 to 626 against joining the union, even though Volkswagen had remained neutral in the union drive.

The loss was a blow to the union's long-term plans to organize auto plants in the South. Patterson said his group would watch closely to see if the UAW adjusted its organizing strategy at the Daimler Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama, and a Nissan Motor Co plant near Jackson, Mississippi.

"We'll modify our strategy accordingly," said Patterson, who spent more than a year helping to organize resistance to the union drive in Tennessee.

The center, created under the umbrella of Norquist's anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, used billboards and 30-second radio spots across the region to criticize the UAW effort and blame the union for the fiscal woes in Detroit, the struggling hub of the U.S. auto industry.

"The win reminds everyone, workers, the business community and families, of the costs of unionization - Detroit and decline - and the real possibility of stopping this recent power grab," Norquist said in an email to Reuters.

A chorus of Republican politicians in Tennessee and other conservative groups also fought against the union drive, arguing it would hurt the state's business climate, and some analysts cautioned against giving the center too much credit for the outcome.

Donald Schroeder, a Boston lawyer who works with management on labor issues, attributed the failed effort to the uncertain economy and said Republican politicians opposed to the union drive played a bigger role than Norquist's group.

The impact from Norquist's organization was "limited in scope," said Schroeder, adding employees were "worried first about keeping their jobs."

"I think it will be difficult to organize other plants in light of the VW vote," Schroeder said.

Patterson declined to discuss how much was spent on the campaign by the center, which worked with a coalition of community and business leaders to rally opposition.

He said the battle had awakened conservatives to the need to fight against unions like the UAW, and how the union responds to the defeat will be "pretty interesting," he said.

"They are going to have to sit back and look at their balance sheets and see what they can afford to do now," Patterson said.

The percentage of U.S. workers belonging to unions reached a historic low at 11.3 percent in 2013, according to government data. In 1983, U.S. union membership rate was 20.1 percent

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Eric Beech and Bernie Woodall; editing by G Crosse)

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Comments (4)
Treeman1942 wrote:
Excellent news. I sincerely hope they succeed in efforts to get the word out on how despicable unions have become. Unions were once needed, but have become corrupt and greedy, much like the Democratic Party to which they are attached. We now have labor law, which protect workers.

In my lifetime, I will never purchase a UAW made vehicle!!!! Check out the Communist Parts support of Democrats and unions!!!

Feb 17, 2014 4:47pm EST  --  Report as abuse
I guess it just shows how they target low information voters by using the whole’UAW ruined Detroit’ argument. Anyone with any critical anaylsis of the last 40 years of socio economics of the Southeast Michigan area realizes that what got Detroit in such a bad spot started with the rise of the suburbs, much of the money moved out, this led to a period of ‘white flight’ as the more affluent white people moved to the suburb, leaving behind mostly poor/African Americans in the city. This decline in tax base along with some boneheaded management decisions is what got Detroit to where it is today. If it was the UAW then southeast Michigan would not be the vibrant area it still is today.

Feb 18, 2014 10:59am EST  --  Report as abuse
Crash866 wrote:
Well the workers voted but I guess you think they were brainwashed. Seriously. Also check out how the mostly poor/African Americans have done under Obama. But my guess you think it is the evil white affluent people that have caused the decline for the poor/African Americans in urban areas as you stated that they ruined Detroit with their “white flight”. You are incredibly racist in this view but just can’t see it as a progressive liberal. By the way they killed Trayvon too!!!

Feb 18, 2014 2:22pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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