Labor unions give workers a collective voice in the workplace, the ability to negotiate for fair wages and benefits, job protections, and guardrails against exploitation. Collective bargaining rights are essential to a strong middle-class and a fair economy, and are protected under the U.S. Constitution.
In early April, hourly employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant launched a bid to join the United Auto Workers (UAW), a labor union that represents American factory workers in the automobile, aerospace, and agricultural machinery industries. Workers submitted a filing petition that was signed by 65% of the plant’s 1,709 hourly workers — more than double the amount of signatures required — to the National Labor Relations Board. Since then, Volkswagen has moved to block the unionization vote from taking place.
Last week, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that unionizing “would harm autoworkers,” confirming a grave disconnect from, and a plain disdain for, the economic reality of Tennesseans who get up and work everyday.
If you support Tennesseans who work hard to provide for their families, then you should support their right to organize and bargain for better wages and earned benefits that define a strong middle class. By trying to deny them that right, Marsha Blackburn continues to solidify herself as an enemy of Tennessee’s proud working families.
It’s not hard to understand why Blackburn has become an entrenched voice for those who wish to weaken the voices of workers — they’ve helped fund her political operation her entire career. Last fall, Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee, funded by billionaire anti-union crusader Charles Koch, spent $2 million on ads on Blackburn’s behalf.
Gov. Bill Lee aligned himself with Blackburn on Monday at all-plant meeting at the Chattanooga factory, which workers were forced to attend. Lee praised the workers as an asset to the state, then in the next breath, demeaningly suggested the workplace operates best when workers forfeit their own bargaining power. “My experience is that when I have a direct relationship with you, the worker, and you’re working for me, that’s when the environment works the best. I do believe,” Lee said.
What does a “direct relationship” mean? For workers, it means no access to legal counsel and representation in contract negotiations, cases of wage theft, etc.
We know that union workers are more likely to achieve favorable outcomes in workplace disputes, better earned benefits and wages, and tend to stay at their jobs longer than non-union workers. Right now, Chattanooga Volkswagen workers do not have the same bargaining power as VW workers in other states or even General Motors workers in Spring Hill, TN, and that’s unacceptable. This is about giving VW the ability to stand up for themselves.
Corporations exist to make a profit; Unions exist to protect and amplify the voices of workers. At a time when Nashville and Washington place more value in the former, Tennessee Democrats are focused on making sure that prosperity extends to workers who make it possible.