Why Should Anyone Be Surprised by UAW's Loss in Tennessee?

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (TheStreet) -- The United Auto Workers' failure to organize the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant probably should not have come as a surprise

Employees voted 712 to 626 not to unionize, a 53% margin in an election in which 89% of eligible employees participated.

The defeat was viewed as crushing for organized labor because it was a rare case in which a company with a plant in the South did not oppose the unionization effort with implied threats and a bevy of expensive anti-union law firms offering advice.

The indication here is that paying for all of that high-priced legal advice has been a big waste of money.

A lot of people had expected the UAW to win in this election, perhaps because of VW's relatively benign position, perhaps because of the union's continuing series of optimistic press releases, or perhaps because the feel-good tenor of the 1979 movie "Norma Rae" still lingers for some. People like to root for the underdog.

In the rest of the world, VW runs its plants with group works councils that include union representatives.

But Tennessee, like most of the South, is heavily Republican. The governor is Republican. The two senators are Republicans. Seven of the nine seats in Congress are held by Republicans.

Tennessee is not the least unionized state, but in 2013 the share of workers represented by a union or an employee association was 6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is the 13th lowest in the country. Most of the states with lower union representation are in the South.

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