The topic of Volkswagen unionization has been a polarizing one, and when President Barack Obama spoke at Amazon Tuesday, he briefly mentioned support for the United Workers Union in relation to how the auto industry has rebounded under his leadership.
“We saved the auto industry, and thanks to GM and the UAW working together to bring jobs back to America, 1,800 autoworkers in Spring Hill are on the job today in what was a once-closed plant,” he said.
For more than a year, leaders with the United Auto Workers Union have been eyeing Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, and they are having discussions about the possibility of creating a German-style labor board.
Efforts to unionize Volkswagen of Chattanooga have recently ramped up, but forces of opposition are also organizing.
Ultimately, the decision belongs to Volkswagen employees, but plenty of people have weighed in on the issue.
A group called Citizens for Free Markets, which is headed up by local tea party leader Mark West, recently organized an anti-union forum,and leaders of the United Auto Workers Union have been holding local meetings with Volkswagen employees.
Obama on unions
Nooga.com asked a White House spokesman if Obama was aware of the unionization efforts at Volkswagen or if he had a general stance on the UAW.
The spokesperson sent a transcript from a February 2012 speech that the president gave to the UAW Union.
He spoke about the government bailout of General Motors andChrysler. The government’s assistance helped the automakers avoid bankruptcy.
In the speech in Washington, D.C., he told UAW members that in exchange for the help the auto industry needed to change and take some responsibility.
“We said to the auto industry,’You’re going to have to truly change, not just pretend like you’re changing,'” Obama said. “And thanks to outstanding leadership like Bob King, we were able to get labor and management to settle their differences.We got the industry to retool and restructure, and everybody involved made sacrifices.”
Obama said that some people said the bailout was about paying back the unions.
“Really?” Obama asked. “I mean, even by the standards of this town, that’s a load of you-know-what.”
Obama told the workers that about 700,000 retirees had to sacrifice health care benefits they had earned and that many employees saw reduced wages and hours.
“It’s unions like yours that fought for jobs and opportunity for generations of American workers,” he said. “It’s unions like yours that helped build the arsenal of democracy that defeated fascism and won World War II. It’s unions like yours that forged the American middle class-that great engine of prosperity, the greatest that the world has ever known.”
Click here to read the entire speech.
Bill Visnic, senior analystwith online automotive shopping and research outletEdmunds.com, said that Obama’s comments about the auto industry and the unions are to be expected.
“No matter where they go or what they are talking about, the administration does continue to reiterate its support of organized labor and how it does strengthen the middle class,” he said.
And although it wasn’t a main focus of the Amazon speech, Visnic also said that the administration also likes to point out the union’s flexibility during the bailout.
“Taken to another level, you can say that applies in the VW situation because times have changed and the relationships [between unions and automaker leaders] have changed, and the auto bailout was a demonstration of that,” he said.
Some anti-union groups blame the fall of the Detroit auto manufacturers on union control. And Visnic said that unions did get too powerful over many years but that the situation wasmultifaceted, complex and not solely the result of union control.
He said that the cost of labor in auto manufacturing is in the low double-digits. So even if the UAW got everything they asked for, that’s still only about 10 percent of the cost to the companies.
“From an objective standpoint, [the idea that it was totally the union’s fault] is much too simple of a conclusion to make about the entire situation,” he said.