Three weeks ago I traveled to Chattanooga, Tenn., on behalf of the Beacon Institute to educate workers and community leaders on the perils of unionizing the 3,000-worker Volkswagen plant. My message: beware turning Chattanooga, a surprisingly fast-growing metro area in the South, into Detroit.
So when the plant workers rejected the UAW effort to bring in a union, it was gratifying that they fully understood the perils: the UAW would put their jobs at risk.
When I traveled to Chattanooga and met with families who would be affected by the union presence, I heard multiple concerns. One was that unions would withhold money from worker paychecks with few corresponding benefits. Workers are paid well at the VW plant — $15 to $30 an hour (plus benefits) depending on skills — and there is high demand for these jobs. Another concern was that the higher plant costs associated with a union might mean that more assembly jobs would be outsourced to Mexico or China.
The UAW goal was to unionize its first foreign auto plant in one of the southern right-to-work states. Once this foothold was established, the plan was to spread union power to other plants in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas — states where unions are sparse but manufacturing jobs once located in the unionized Midwest are sprouting up all over.
Right-to-work states have been creating jobs at two to three times the pace of forced-union states — thus eroding union power.
VW executives, who generally supported the union, held a wildly naïve view of how union power works in practice in America, where militarized Big Labor bosses have contaminated nearly every industry they touch — autos, steel, the Postal Service, and state and local governments. The rebirth of the U.S. industry in the South has been an end run around corrupting union influence. As Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who was mayor of Chattanooga when many companies moved in to this region, tells me, “These plants have located here precisely because we are not tied down by unions and we have right to work protections in Tennessee.”
In the end, the workers saw more risk than benefit to union power in Chattanooga. We should all celebrate because the hope for America’s economic future is to make bankrupt Detroit more like prosperous Tennessee — not vice versa.
Stephen Moore is chief economist at The Heritage Foundation.