Is this a death knell for unions?

Commentary

Union organizing campaigns are often stressful and consist of exaggerations from both sides. But a recent attempt by the United Auto Workers to organize a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee was unique. Plant management not only didn't oppose the organization effort, it gave the union access to the plant and workers.


You'd expect, then, that the UAW would be successful because opposition to the union was coming only from outside the company. German-owned Volkswagen's business structure is designed around a union environment, so it would undoubtedly be easy for it to accept a union within the plant. But the union failed.

That's right -- even without company opposition, the union couldn't get 50 percent of the workforce to vote for it. Another recent union failure involved the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Worker's defeat at Amazon, but that was a very different situation because Amazon actively campaigned against the union.

At VW, organizers had neutrality, if not support, from the company, and yet they still failed. Which means they couldn't convince workers why they'd be better with a union. (It should be noted, the tally wasn't a slam dunk for anti-union forces at 712 to 626.) Tennessee is a "red state," and red state voters tend to oppose to the largely Democratic-leaning unions. In the 2012 elections, the UAW gave $1.4 million to Democratic House candidates and a mere $1,000 to Republicans.

Why would workers want to vote in an organization that would take their union dues and give the money to politicians whom the workers opposed? The rejection of this union may well be the end result of the workers' political leanings. Which brings up an interesting question: Just where are we seeing manufacturing growing? Manual labor has long been the strong point for unions, and if factories are more prevalent in "red states," does that mean unions won't have the opportunity to gain a foothold?

If Volkswagen were run by Americans rather than union-friendly Germans, it's likely it would have actively opposed the union. You can bet that if it had, the vote to reject the UAW would have been even stronger.

Walmart (WMT), a business that has staunchly opposed unions at every turn, just announced a huge campaign to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. (in this brilliant commercial narrated by Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe.) Where are these new factories going to open? In downtown San Francisco? Not likely.

More likely they'll open and expand in areas that already aren't union-friendly. Add to that Walmart's anti-union backing and the need for those factories to keep prices low because they'll be selling to Walmart, and what are the chances that unions will gain a strong presence?


Low. 

This defeat for the UAW isn't a mere aberration. It's a sign of things to come. Unless unions make a huge change in their organizing strategy and how they choose their political causes, this is a yet another sign of weakening union power.