Category Archives: unions

Teachers union turf war in Memphis

A turf war is brewing between the state and Memphis teachers unions, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee.

In an unexpected move, the Tennessee Education Association told Memphis-area union members in an email that it had created a new chapter for them on Wednesday. The TEA did so after the local teachers union moved to break from the state and national unions — a decision that has left educators confused about who represents them.

“I think everyone’s got to be puzzled about what’s going on,” said Ken Foster, the former head of the local union. “I don’t know if the average teacher in the classroom knows what is going on, but I guess they would have some questions.”

The conflict stems from a series of changes — including Foster’s departure — at the local union, the Memphis and Shelby County Education Association, that appear to have provoked the state union.

At issue is whether the local chapter can make its own decisions about its staff and policies, or whether it falls under the state union’s oversight.

Recently, the local union — which represents about 4,500 teachers, or about half of local educators — has taken advantage of its autonomy to make a slew of leadership changes. Most notably, Keith Williams, the five-year union president whose term ended in July and who is now running for City Council, returned as executive director in August. He replaced Foster, who had held the executive director position for 15 years.

Williams has used his new position to wage a battle against the state union, which he said had failed to serve local members. He said the local affiliate handles all grievances filed by its members, but when they choose to turn court cases over to state union officials they are ignored.

“They haven’t done one thing for members in Memphis and Shelby County,” Williams said.

So he retained Memphis attorney Michael Floyd to inform state union officials that the local chapter was seceding.

“Effective immediately my client has elected not to be affiliated with either the NEA or the TEA,” Floyd wrote to TEA President Barbara Gray on Wednesday.

Magazine lowers TN rating for politicians interfering with VW union process

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee has a dropped a spot in Chief Executive magazine’s annual rating of the best and worst states for business over political interference on labor issues at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

According to the magazine, Tennessee is on the downward trend because “state politicians shouldn’t have messed in Volkswagen’s unionization business.” The state’s ranking dropped from third to fourth.

Opposition to the United Auto Workers’ efforts to unionize the Volkswagen plant has been led by Republicans like U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam.

Documents leaked last year revealed that the Haslam administration tried to make a $300 million incentive package for Volkswagen contingent on labor talks “being concluded to the satisfaction” of the state, though the governor declined to say which scenarios would have satisfied the state.

UAW signs up 55 percent of Volkswagen work force in Chattanooga

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The United Auto Workers union has 816 members at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, or about 55 percent of the total blue collar work force, according the union’s latest disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The filing comes as the UAW works toward gaining collective bargaining rights at its first foreign-owned plant in the South. And the union’s case for recognition could be bolstered by leadership shakeup at the German automaker that has left a former union chief, Berthold Huber, as the interim chairman of the world’s No. 2 automaker.

The UAW last year narrowly lost a union vote at the Chattanooga plant that featured heavy campaigning by anti-union Republicans like U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. Huber wrote workers at the plant before the vote urging them to support the UAW.

“I recommend that you choose to have a democratic voice in your work place and vote for union representation by the UAW,” Huber wrote in December 2013. “Thus you will become a part of a global family of solidarity.”

Huber took over the helm of Volkswagen last week after the shock resignation patriarch Ferdinand Piech, who had shaped the company’s destiny for more than 25 years. Piech had criticized CEO Martin Winterkorn in an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, saying he was “at a distance” from him. Other board members — including labor representatives who make up half of the 20-member supervisory board — backed Winterkorn.

One of the sticking points between Piech and Winterkorn was said to be Volkswagen’s underperformance in the U.S. market, where the company saw market share drop from 3 percent in 2012 to 2.2 percent in 2014.

Volkswagen last year announced plans to expand the Chattanooga plant to build a new SUV aimed at reviving flagging sales in the U.S., but the new model isn’t expected to hit dealerships until next year.

The decision to build the new SUV followed months of political tension stemming from Volkswagen’s labor-friendly corporate culture coming into the political crosshairs of Republicans who fear a UAW foothold among foreign automakers would make the region less competitive to future investment.
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Watson berates VW officials as ‘a magnet for organized labor’

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, whose district includes the Volkswagen plant at Chattanooga, declared during a legislative hearing Tuesday that the German auto manufacturer has intentionally become “a magnet for organized labor,” reports the Chattanooga TFP.

Watson, R-Hixson, repeatedly drilled David Geanacopoulos, Volkswagen America’s general counsel, about its labor policies.

Watson said the incentives for Volkswagen “will give Southeast Tennessee a big foothold in the automotive industry particularly in research and development and … development of a new line of VW vehicles” — a planned SUV.

“However, Mr. Chairman and committee members,” Watson said, “VW is a magnet for organized labor, intentionally.”

…Watson specifically zeroed in on news accounts of comments made last year at a national UAW convention by Frank Patta, vice chairman of VW’s European and Global Group Works Council, which represents workers worldwide.

The lawmaker read from news accounts in which Patta said VW’s works council is a model that can only help workers.

“We did not lose the fight. I promise you we will go on,” Watson read from Patta’s comments. “Our dream is stronger than the resistance of our enemies. We will only rest once our colleagues in Tennessee have the UAW and co-determination. Our works council model will spread to the entire South and hopefully far beyond Tennessee. … This is our dream.”

…Geanocoupolis said “we believe it is a question for our employees to decide. We have actually established a new policy in the company that allows us to have conversations with any labor organization that has support from our workforce. Not about collective bargaining. It’s not about union representation.”

He noted that under VW’s community engagement policy, the company also granted limited recognition to an anti-UAW group calling itself the American Council of Employees (ACE). Both the UAW and ACE meet with company officials to “exchange ideas,” Geanocoupolis said. “And that’s the extent of it. We have this obligation to be engaged with our employees and the groups that represent them and it’s embodied in this new policy which is open and transparent.”

Replied Watson: “I’m not sure that really answers the question of whether there’s a partnership or not.”

In the end, the Commerce Committee approved the incentive grant as part of the Economic and Community Development Department’s budget without Watson’s support.

The vote was 8-0 with Watson abstaining.

Obama promises veto of Alexander-sponsored bill to reverse NLRB rule

By Andrew Taylor, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Republicans controlling the Senate moved Tuesday to try to reverse a new National Labor Relations Board rule that would shorten the time between a union’s request for representation and the vote on whether to certify a union.

But the White House promised to veto the measure just before the Senate’s 53-45 party-line vote.

Senate Republicans are employing a little-used process that allows Congress to pass a bill to try to reverse agency regulations without the threat of a Democratic filibuster. A final vote is likely on Wednesday.

But the promised veto by President Barack Obama would kill the effort since it takes a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate to override him.

The White House statement said the NLRB’s “modest reforms will help simplify and streamline private sector union elections, thereby reducing delays before workers can have a free and fair vote on whether or not to form or join a union.”

Republicans countered that the new policy would allow unions to force “ambush elections” that limit the ability of employers to make the case against a union. Bill sponsor Lamar Alexander said the rule would shorten the time between a union petition and a representation election from the current median of 38 days to as few as 11 days.

The new rule would also give unions the email addresses and telephone numbers of workers to more easily communicate with them in advance of a vote.

“It forces a union election before an employer has the time to figure out what’s going on,” Alexander said. Even worse, it jeopardizes employees’ privacy by requiring employers to turn over employees’ personal information, including email addresses, phone numbers, shift hours and locations to union organizers.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., countered that “too often, big corporations take advantage of loopholes in the current election process to delay a vote on union representation. Unnecessary litigation and excessive delays threaten the rights of workers who want to have a free and fair election.”

The rule is scheduled to take effect in April.

As legislators eye VW subsidies, Ramsey says Saturn subsidies may have been a mistake

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday that it may have been “a mistake” for Tennessee to subsidize the development of the General Motors plant outside Nashville because it has a United Auto Workers union contract.

The Blountville Republican’s comments came as GOP lawmakers weighing a $166 million incentive package for Volkswagen expansion in Chattanooga seek assurances that the German automaker will remain neutral on labor issues among its workers.

Republican lawmakers have grumbled about the United Auto Workers union’s ongoing role at the plant, and Ramsey pointed to the thriving Nissan plant in Smyrna as an example of the benefits of nonunion auto production compared with the GM plant that begun its life making Saturns.

“Maybe we made a mistake years ago with the things we did for Saturn, because it’s been up and down, closed and open, and yet Nissan is booming right now,” Ramsey said.

The GM plant in Spring Hill produced more than 3.7 million vehicles between 1990 and 2007. At its peak, the facility employed nearly 8,000 workers. But that number had dwindled to about 630 by 2009, when auto assembly was idled during the Great Recession.

Production was restarted following a 2011 contract agreement with the UAW that included salary concessions for entry-level workers and an agreement to bring jobs to Spring Hill that would have otherwise gone to Mexico. The plant now employs about 1,700 hourly workers. GM announced earlier this month that under the 2011 contract, each worker will receive $9,000 in profit sharing.

The Nissan plant in Smyrna has added about 4,500 jobs since 2011, bringing its total to 8,400 employees. The plant made 648,000 vehicles last year.
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KY governor’s recruiting pitch: When it comes to unions, we’re not like TN

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In an unexpected shot across the bow of his GOP neighbors to the south, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has a simple message on labor and economic development for automakers looking to build new plants: We’re not Tennessee.

The Democrat is touting Kentucky’s neutrality on labor matters as “a positive sales point,” particularly in contrast to the turmoil in Tennessee, where Republicans have pulled out all the stops in what may yet be a losing effort to keep the United Auto Workers from gaining collective bargaining rights at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga. Similar unionization efforts are underway at a Mercedes plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Beshear’s public comments are unusually bold in the secretive, cutthroat world of recruiting big-name employers, such as the foreign automakers lured to the South with fat tax incentives and Republican pitches about anti-unionism as a competitive advantage.

Beshear first made the comments to Automotive News Europe during a recent recruiting trip to Germany, Volkswagen’s home turf, and to Sweden, the base for Chinese-owned Volvo Cars, which is rumored to be considering a new plant in the U.S.

“I’m not trying to tell Tennessee or any other state how to handle their economic development efforts,” Beshear told The Associated Press after his return last week. “I can just say that in Kentucky we would welcome either type of situation, either companies with unions or without them.”

The state already has both: Ford and General Motors plants represented by the UAW, and nonunion plants like Toyota.
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Kelsey bill to void union agreements with cities draws opposition

Union officials in Memphis and City Council members in Chattanooga assailed state Sen. Brian Kelsey’s proposed legislation to dissolve union agreements with city workers, reports the Commercial Appeal.

At a news conference Thursday, Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson introduced a proposed resolution asking his fellow council members to formally denounce state Senate Bill 123, drafted by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. Anderson says that, among other things, the legislation could negatively affect up to 3,000 workers in Chattanooga alone.

On Tuesday, a Memphis City Council committee will consider a similar resolution.

The Senate bill seeks to prevent cities and metropolitan governments in Tennessee from recognizing or entering agreements with employee unions and rendering any “agreement, contract, understanding, or practice, written or oral, implied or expressed” between a city and a union “illegal, void and of no legal effect.”

Kelsey said Thursday he is only trying to help cities.

“If Tennessee wants to truly be a right-to-work state, we are going to have to apply those principles all the way down to the local level,” Kelsey said. “This bill will help cities to control their budget issues by giving them the ability to negotiate directly with employees.”

Mike Williams, president of the Memphis Police Association, said the state’s unions have been working to defeat the bill, which he said will set back the relationship between unions and local municipalities to an era before the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike.

Note: See also a Times-Free Press story, HERE.

McCormick says legislators will OK $300M in VW incentives

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A top Republican in the Tennessee General Assembly says he expects his colleagues to approve the state share of a $300 million incentive package for Volkswagen despite misgivings about the role of the United Auto Workers union at the German automaker’s plant in Chattanooga.

House Republican leader Gerald McCormick says he agrees with some colleagues that the UAW should not, in his words, “slip in the back door because of a secret deal with Volkswagen.”

But McCormick nevertheless expects his colleagues to approve the deal struck to ensure the production of a new SUV at the plant and the creation of 2,000 jobs. In McCormick’s words: “Tennessee will keep its promises.”

The UAW has qualified under a new labor policy at the VW plant that stops short of collective bargaining.

Legislators eye blocking VW incentives because of union activity

The General Assembly could oppose providing incentives for Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant expansion in the wake of United Auto Workers gains at the factory, reports the Chattanooga TFP.

“I start with a jaundiced view,” said state Rep. Mike Carter about the incentives estimated at nearly $300 million, a large chunk of which is to come from the state.

Action on the VW incentives, negotiated last year by Gov. Bill Haslam and state economic development officials, is expected to come during the upcoming legislative session and with a backdrop of UAW activity at the plant.

“There will be discussions about additional incentives to Volkswagen,” said state Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, in a meeting with Times Free Press reporters and editors. “Whatever is playing out locally will be part of that discussion.”

When pressed on an outcome, Watson said, “I didn’t say they should pass the incentives. I didn’t say they were going to pass. At the end of the day, we’ll settle on what is in the best interests of the citizens. Each individual legislator will take a position that best represents his district.”

Last year, Watson was among state legislative leaders who sharply criticized VW for supporting the UAW ahead of a February union vote by VW employees. He said then that VW conducted a labor campaign that’s “unfair, unbalanced and, quite frankly, un-American.”

The UAW lost, 712 to 626.

But the UAW alleged interference by Republican state politicians and formed a nondues-paying local. Since then, VW created a new policy to interact with labor groups based on membership and granted the UAW access to the plant and regular meetings with management.

A rival labor group, the American Council of Employees, has alleged that VW favors the UAW and is not offering “a level playing field.”

VW denies preference for one group over another and says its policy is “fair and equal treatment of all groups.

…Sen. Todd Gardenhire said VW officials are “in your face. It’s their way or no way. They’ve decided by-golly they want the UAW here. They’re not listening to the community.”

But state Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, believes VW supports the UAW because in Germany, working with unions has helped stabilize the economy and labor pool.

Still, Favors said, with other budgetary needs in the state, such as education, VW may not need the full incentive package.”

UPDATE: Haslam weighs in.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam says he understands the “real concerns” raised by some fellow Republican lawmakers about the ongoing role of the United Auto Workers union’s role at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, but stressed that they shouldn’t sink a $300 million incentive deal to get the German automaker to expand production there.

Haslam, who last summer struck the incentives deal with Volkswagen to add the production of a new SUV at the Chattanooga plant and add about 2,000 jobs, told reporters Wednesday that his administration will work to persuade reluctant lawmakers to agree to the arrangement.

“You have some real concerns expressed by legislators that we understand — we expressed those same concerns up front as well,” Haslam said. “We’ll have those discussions about where we think Volkswagen is and why we think this is the right proposal for the state.”