Disgusting! GOP Tries to Bully American Workers Seeking Union at Tennessee Volkswagen Plant

The GOP will do anything to block the first foreign-owned unionized auto plant in the South.

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The United Auto Workers are trying to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but GOP lawmakers seem determined to thwart them. About 1,550 hourly workers are employed at the plant, which opened its doors in 2011. On Wednesday, workers began a three-day vote on whether to join the union. A yes vote would be a major triumph for the UAW, which has tried for years to represent auto workers in the South, a region where anti-union sentiment is strong.

Usually, it’s the company management you have to worry about when you’re trying to form a union. But this time, the automaker is not opposing the vote, and in fact, the company has stated it does not want anyone interfering with its employees’ legal right to choose a union if that’s what they want. Republicans, on the other hand, are anything but neutral, and have come out as the strong-arm champions.

Corporate America likes to do business union-free, and Tennessee Republicans have warned that business flight and economic Armageddon will result if workers dare to organize. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) came out with an explosive statement on Wednesday, saying that he had been “assured” that if the plant workers end up rejecting UAW representation, the company would reward the plant with a new product to build, an SUV.

Political scientist Dorian Warren of Columbia University, who has conducted research on labor organizing, told AlterNet that he finds Sen. Corker’s remarks disturbing:

“Senator Corker’s statements about Volkswagon potentially bringing a new SUV product line to Tennessee is one of the oldest tricks in the anti-union campaign book. We know that employers routinely illegally threaten to shut down or move the plant if workers vote to unionize, and Corker is trying the reverse of this: claiming workers will be rewarded for voting against the UAW. If Senator Corker didn’t violate the law, he certainly intended to do so as a desperate, last-ditch effort to intimidate workers from exercising their rights to choose union representation.”

National Labor Relations Board expert Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt. professor of labor at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, agrees, saying that Corker was trying to intimidate workers.

Elsewhere in the world, Volkswagen plants have a German-style works council, in which members elected by employees are able to make key decisions about the facility's operations. If the Chattanooga workers decide on a union, VW would institute a works council and the UAW would bargain over wages and benefits.

Having a union makes a difference: Workers at the VW plant make roughly $19 an hour, while $26 to $28 an hour is the norm for experienced hourly workers in Detroit. Unions are also good for the overall economy; when workers have purchasing power and can buy the goods and services they need, that helps keep the economy chugging along.

Unions paved the way for the middle class in America. With their anti-union frenzy, Republicans are sending a strong signal that they don't care about the middle class, or giving ordinary people a chance to share in the prosperity they help create.

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Lynn Parramore is an author and cultural theorist. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.