Imagine you are an auto worker and one day you find union representatives campaigning inside your workplace, assisted by a foreign labor union, trying to convince you and your coworkers to certify it as your monopoly bargaining representative.
The union has a tough sell on its hands. Some workers don’t want to pay for union representation because they’re politically conservative and the union only supports liberal policies and politicians. Others see how unions in Detroit destroyed the city’s industry. And others are simply turned off by the union’s aggressive tactics and the involvement of a foreign union in its campaign. So when it comes time to vote for union membership, a majority of your coworkers vote no. One Volkswagen employee says of the union, “I just don’t trust them.”
The union, after two years of persistent campaigning, must back off and leave you alone. It signs an agreement stating it will not try to organize the plant for another year, but then breaks that promise and forms a small group of interested employees to likely act as a stalking horse for a renewed organizing effort. Then the union and its foreign ally release a statement reinforcing their intent to force unionization on you, and this time there’s a second foreign union involved. A union spokesman says, “We lost one battle, but we did not lose the entire fight....I promise, we will go on.”
This is the story of Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The union trying to organize the plant is the United Auto Workers (UAW). And the foreign unions involved are based in Germany, Volkswagen’s home. Why is this important?
Because when the UAW lost the election, it cited “outside interference,” as one of the main reasons workers in Chattanooga voted it down. Granted, there was a backlash against the UAW’s aggressive efforts from Republican politicians and advocacy groups for freedom of association in the workplace. But when it comes to its German friends, the UAW has eagerly sought all the “outside” help it can get. But now it faces a new challenge.
Volkswagen, after giving the UAW free rein, is opening the floor to multiple unions, which will have to compete to attract members instead of trying to reel them in by fiat. Multiple unions competing for membership may well be the future of the labor movement and a long overdue replacement of the Great Depression-era exclusive representation union model, under which unions are hemorrhaging members and waning in influence.
Lawmakers could facilitate a worker-friendly transition to this more competitive union model by deleting a single word in the National Labor Relations Act: “exclusive.” Section 9(a) of the NLRA says,
Representatives designated or selected for the purposes of collective bargaining by the majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for such purposes, shall be the exclusive representatives of all the employees in such unit for the purposes of collective bargaining in respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of employment, or other conditions of employment…
If the language were changed to read, “Representatives designated or selected for the purposes of collective bargaining by the majority of the employees…shall be representatives of all employees in such unit,” that would leave room for workers in the minority to choose a different union or refrain from associating with the union selected by the majority. Under this new competitive union model, unionization would not be an all-or-nothing proposition. Former Federal Labor Relations Authority regional director Robert P. Hunter explains why this would benefit workers:
When a union is selected to represent employees in an “appropriate” unit of workers, the union alone has the legal authority to speak for all employees, including those who neither voted for nor joined the labor organization. No other union, individual or representative may negotiate terms and conditions of employment, and the individual employee is effectively deprived of the opportunity to represent his or her own interests.
The First Amendment’s right of freedom of association has been trampled in the workplace for too long. Compulsory unionism belongs in the past.