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Why UAW Made the Right Move at Volkswagen in Chattanooga

Stocks in this article: BA GM

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (TheStreet) -- The UAW made the right move Monday, withdrawing its objections to February's unionization vote at Volkswagen's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., hours before an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board was scheduled to hear them.

It is easy to conclude that the case was withdrawn because its backers expected to lose. That is usually why cases are withdrawn just before they are about to be heard.

Beyond that, looking ahead, the best result would have been a do-over. In general, people are not fond of do-overs. In February, the UAW lost the closely watched unionization vote by a 53% margin in a 712-626 vote.

No reason exists to think the outcome would be different the second time, even if the union could prove interference by anti-union interest groups and Republican politicians, including U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

This was probably an election where, as the saying goes, they stole it fair and square.

Now all of our country's Republican anti-unionists can once again proclaim that the union movement, which they view as an arm of the Democratic party, is dead and can never win anything in the South. But, in fact, that exaggerates what happened.

First, the UAW did not run a brilliant unionization campaign. Many observers make the case that the union failed to explain how it could benefit plant workers. Of course, a victory would have helped the UAW, which is trying to gain a foothold in the South. But would it have helped the workers?

Unfortunately, the UAW long ago succeeded in making auto manufacturing a profession that offers its workers a middle-class lifestyle. So why pay union dues? To show your sense of history?

Secondly, this is a tricky time to try to unionize at Volkswagen. The automaker is evaluating where to produce a mid-sized SUV, with a decision expected shortly. The location could be in Mexico, or it could be in Chattanooga. Corker has said the vote not to unionize assures the plant will be in Chattanooga, while VW has said the vote is not a factor. Still, it is hard to imagine that a vote to unionize would help Chattanooga's chances.

In the UAW press release Monday, UAW President Bob King offered a laundry list of reasons to back down. Among them, he said, the were "the best interests of Volkswagen employees, the automaker, and economic development in Chattanooga." Also,the union feared that "the NLRB's historically dysfunctional and complex process potentially could drag on for months or even years."

On top of that, he cited refusals by Corker and Haslam to participate in the hearing scheduled for Monday. Their refusal, he said, "undermines public trust and confidence."

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