Stateside,  Trade Unions

Southern labor update

The United Auto Workers union is claiming unfair interference by leading Republican officials after losing a union representation election in February at the Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen assembly plant.

NewsChannel 5 in Nashville reports:

United Auto Workers lawyers issued subpoenas Wednesday for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Bob Corker and key members of the Haslam administration to testify at an upcoming hearing over the union’s efforts to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.
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Corker’s chief-of-staff Todd Womack and press secretary Micah Johnson were listed on the subpoena list, along with conservative activists Grover Norquist and Matt Patterson.

The subpoenas call for them to testify before a National Labor Relations Board hearing later this month, where the UAW is challenging a vote that it narrowly lost at the VW plant. It asks those officials to bring all documents relating to economic incentives offered to Volkswagen.

Documents recently leaked to NewsChannel 5 Investigates show the Haslam administration wanted a say in the automaker’s deal with organized labor — in exchange for $300 million in economic incentives to help VW expand its Chattanooga operations.

The governor had emphatically denied rumors heard by Democratic lawmakers that state incentives were tied to Volkswagen rejecting the UAW’s role on its workers council.

But the documents, marked confidential, stated that the proposed incentives were “subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.”

Emails obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates also showed that Corker’s staff was in contact with anti-union activists and then shared that information with members of the Haslam administration who were in charge of the incentives.

While union haters were celebrating what the saw as a victory at Volkswagen over big bad organized labor, some contradictory news was emerging from Tennessee. The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported:

Last year, Tennessee had the fastest rate of growth in union membership of any state, according to new government figures. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 31,000 more Tennesseans were members of labor unions in 2013 than in the previous year, swelling the ranks of organized labor in the state by 25 percent last year and boosting union rolls to the highest level in nearly a decade.

Georgia and Alabama were close behind Tennessee in the growth rate for union membership with union rolls growing in each state by more than 22 percent last year. BLS estimates Georgia added 38,000 union members last year and Alabama added another 37,000 union members during 2013.

Unions have traditionally been weak in the American south, and the percentage of the southern workers who are unionized is still very low. But with the burden of “right to work” for less laws and the outright hostility of southern politicians, any gains at all are noteworthy.

And by coincidence, two notable figures in southern labor history were born on this date.

Florence Reece, the daughter and wife of coal miners, was born in 1900. She wrote the famous labor song “Which Side Are You On?” during the violent coal war of the 1930s in Harlan County, Kentucky.

And racing-car driver Curtis Turner, who attempted to organize a union for the mostly-southern NASCAR drivers in 1961 and for his temerity was banned from NASCAR races for several years, was born on this date in nearby Floyd, Virginia, in 1924.

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