Tuesday, September 10, Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker told the Associated Press that he “was a little worried” Volkswagen could become “a laughingstock in many ways” if they continued their discussions with the United Auto Workers about creating a German-style works council at their Chattanooga plant. Likening the idea to “inflicting a wound,” Corker characterized management’s participation in the discussion as “naïve” and went on to single out the UAW as having created an “us versus them” mentality in plants.
Okay, so after a brief chuckle about a member of the U.S. Senate accusing anyone else of having an “us versus them” partisan mentality, I would offer the following –
Unions do need a makeover.
It seems to me that the general consensus is that the union movement in this country is struggling and must find a new path to remain relevant. That is a fact that the unions’ own leaders agree deserves attention. At the AFL-CIO convention held during the same week that Senator Corker spoke to the AP, a key theme was the need to make major changes. President Richard Trumka‘ s closing remarks centered on the need to represent worker issues whether or not those workers were paying members of an AFL-CIO related union. While that may not be a popular solution, it clearly represents thinking that is far outside of the recent pattern of union behavior in this country.
Not all of the brilliant ideas originate in the US.
So one question then is “Do the German work councils represent a form of union/management collaboration worth exploring?” Note here that VW has 90 locations around the globe and Chattanooga is the only one in which employees are not union represented – not what the Oxford dictionary considers naïve i.e., “lacking in experience or knowledge.”
The UAW has consistently demonstrated a willingness to try new approaches.
Marty Mulloy, the global labor strategy leader for Ford Motor, stated that the turnaround Ford has experienced would not have been possible without the collaborative work done with their UAW counterparts to forge new contracts and a new model of labor/management partnership. (To learn more about new approaches to Collaboration, see the post titled "Labor Management Collaboration Helped Fuel Ford Turnaround")
It is particularly puzzling to me that a senator from Tennessee would posit that, at the very least, VW should look to some union other than the UAW. Especially since the GM plant in Springhill, Tennessee, was established as a direct result of a joint UAW-GM study that began in 1983 when the two entities agreed that they needed to find a better way to manufacture autos in North America. The result was a highly innovative experiment in auto production and union/management collaboration that brought billions of dollars in construction and autoworker wages and thousands of jobs to Tennessee.
Here’s hoping Senator Corker can find a way to keep an open mind to collaborative efforts that have been proven elsewhere to benefit the company’s bottom line (and thus, to create and keep more jobs and to contribute more tax dollars to the local economy) and to improve the workers’ (his constituents’) work life quality.
Robert Hughes is the founder and President of Overland Resource Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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