Back in December I wrote about the “Rise of Alt-Labor,” which referred to the increased use of union-sponsored worker centers and public charities. Savvy unions have utilized “alt-labor” organizations to advance the labor movement in ways that traditional organizing has been unsuccessful. The use of “alt-labor” organizations is new enough that employers are still struggling to respond. But will one response be the rise of “alt-management”?
The labor community was abuzz last week over the defeat of the United Auto Workers (UAW) in a unionization vote at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee. What made the defeat shocking was that UAW and Volkswagen had negotiated a neutrality agreement before the election. Not only did Volkswagen allow UAW’s organizers into the plant, but Volkswagen’s leadership even seemed eager to import a German-style workers’ council at the factory. So how did UAW lose? Apparently there was a concerted and vigorous opposition mounted by Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers who wanted to maintain Tennessee’s reputation as a non-union state and who threatened to withhold tax incentives from Volkswagen if the workers unionized. (See Washington Post article here.) After the first day of voting, Senator Bob Corker even said that Volkswagen would expand its factory if the union was rejected. After the defeat, UAW President Bob King expressed outrage at the outside interference. According to Mr. King, “It’s never happened in this country before that a U.S. senator, a governor, a leader of the house, a leader of the legislature here threatened the company with those incentives, threatened workers with the loss of product.” (Click here for Reuter’s article). The UAW is now considering its legal options. However, any challenge to the election based on the statements of lawmakers is going to be next to impossible given the free speech rights at stake.
So will we see more of this in the future? Lawmakers and other public figures essentially acting as surrogate management advocates? I have no doubt this may foretell a trend in the South, but I don’t think we’ll see anything so drastic in California. But this certainly illustrates one potential response to the rise of alt-labor.