Press Coverage of UAW's VW-Chattanooga Loss 'Somehow' Overlooks One 'Outside Influence' -- President Obama

February 15th, 2014 8:21 PM

The three Associated Press reports I've seen on the UAW's failure to win the right to represent hourly workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee — the first two were covered in NewsBusters posts here and here; the wire service's 3:52 p.m. report is here — all mention in one way or another what UAW President Bob King is now calling "unprecedented outside interference" in the runup to the election. (VW, which can only run the factory with the kind of "workers councils" it has at its other worldwide plants in the U.S. if its workers are represented by an outside union, supported the UAW's efforts.)

But AP reporters Tom Krisher and Erik Schelzig, as well as panelists discussing the aftermath on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC program this morning, "somehow" ignored the "outside interference" of the person who holds the most powerful political office on earth. That's right. President Obama, whose National Labor Relations Board conducted the election, weighed in on Friday morning with statements at a "closed door" meeting which were clearly designed to be leaked. Here is what Richard Cowan and Bernie Woodall at Reuters reported on Friday morning (HT Gateway Pundit):

Obama weighs in on contentious union vote at Volkswagen plant


President Barack Obama on Friday waded into a high-stakes union vote at Volkswagen AG's plant in Tennessee, accusing Republican politicians who oppose unionization of being more concerned about German shareholders than U.S. workers.

Obama's comments, made at a closed-door meeting of Democratic lawmakers in Maryland, came as the vote to allow union representation at the Chattanooga plant drew to a close.

The vote will have wide-reaching implications for the auto industry in the South, where all foreign-owned assembly plants employ nonunion labor, and for the United Auto Workers union, which could use a victory to reverse a decades-long downward spiral.

The vote has faced fierce resistance from local Republican politicians and national conservative groups who have warned that a UAW victory could hurt economic growth in Tennessee. While voting was under way on Wednesday, Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker said VW could announce new investment in the plant if the UAW lost the secret ballot.

Facing accusations that he was seeking to influence the ballot process, Corker defended his statement as "true and factual" in an interview with Reuters, despite Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW Chattanooga, saying that there was "no connection" between the vote and the possible investment.

Obama's interjection in the war of words on Friday, albeit behind closed doors, underscored how much is stake in the three-day vote by VW's 1,550 hourly workers. The vote is due to end at 8:30 p.m. ET and the results could be announced soon after that.

Obama said everyone was in favor of the UAW representing Volkswagen except for local politicians who "are more concerned about German shareholders than American workers," according to a Democratic aide who attended the meeting with Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives.

There was still plenty of time left to vote on Friday, the third day of balloting at the plant, when Obama made his statements. The result is not considered truly official until Obama's National Labor Relations Board, which according to the video announcement after the election actually counted the votes, certifies the results.

Post-election, why isn't what Obama said being reported, and then framed as failed "outside interference"? It certainly should be seen as just that if the union attempts to appeal the election result to Obama's NLRB based on local politicians' statements.

The President's reference to politicians supposedly "being more concerned about German shareholders than U.S. workers" is either odd or ignorant, given the fact that the company itself essentially invited the UAW in. Also, last time I checked, sir, anyone in the world can own VW stock. Anything which might be good for Volkswagen would be good for all of its worldwide shareholders.

The press's failure to mention Obama's interjection conveniently spares him embarrassment for having advocated for the losing side. I'm reasonably confident that if the UAW had won, some of the credit would have gone to Obama's "powerful personal influence."

The fact that Obama didn't weigh in until Day 3 could also indicate that the union thought it had a victory in hand, and had communicated that expectation to Obama's staff. If so ... oops. We'll never know, but it's also possible that Obama's interjection might have turned the tide from what looked like a win to a loss with Day 3 voters.

AP's 3:52 p.m. report by Krisher and Schelwig, both of whom are likely members of News Media Guild representing the wire service's employees, blamed a "cultural disconnect" for the UAW's defeat, but also notably brought up the union's history of shortchanging its newbie workers to preserve the wages and benefits of longtime veterans:


The failure of the United Auto Workers to unionize employees at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee underscores a cultural disconnect between a labor-friendly German company and anti-union sentiment in the South.

The multiyear effort to organize Volkswagen's only U.S. plant was defeated on a 712-626 vote Friday night amid heavy campaigning on both sides.

Workers voting against the union said while they remain open to the creation of a German-style "works council" at the plant, they were unwilling to risk the future of the Volkswagen factory that opened to great fanfare on the site of a former Army ammunition plant in 2011.

"Come on, this is Chattanooga, Tennessee," said worker Mike Jarvis, who was among the group in the plant that organized to fight the UAW. "It's the greatest thing that's ever happened to us."

Jarvis, who hangs doors, trunk lids and hoods on cars said workers also were worried about the union's historical impact on Detroit automakers and the many plants that have been closed in the North, he said.

"Look at every company that's went bankrupt or shut down or had an issue," he said. "What is the one common denominator with all those companies? UAW. We don't need it."

Pocketbook issues were also on opponents' minds, Jarvis said. Workers were suspicious that Volkswagen and the union might have already reached "cost containment" agreements that could have led to a cut in their hourly pay rate to that made by entry-level employees with the Detroit Three automakers, he said.

The concern, he said, was that the UAW "was going to take the salaries in a backward motion, not in a forward motion," said Jarvis, who makes around $20 per hour as he approaches his three-year anniversary at the plant.

In other words, the union's track record of acquiescing to two-tiered wage structures at its U.S. plants, where workers doing exactly the same job receiving vastly different pay based purely on seniority, came back to bite it. That's especially relevant because lower-paid workers typically are required to pay in the same amount in union dues as those who receive much higher pay. A reasonable estimate of what VW workers would have had to pay would be about $700 per year.

Given the union's history of poorly treating less experienced workers, it's reasonable to see the VW result as, in a sense, an administration of just desserts.

MSNBC panelists on Harris-Perry's show who failed to note Obama's interjection yammered on about VW's relatively low wage structure compared to the rest of the auto industry, using it as a jumping-off point to characterize the South as a region where workers are routinely exploited. But they "somehow" failed to mention Jarvis's critical and quite valid two-tiered wage structure suspicion.

Cross-posted at