VW Tennessee plant could decide future of EU-US trade deal
Unions in Europe are alternately bemused and ashamed at how companies they work closely with at home behave so badly abroad. Like a happily married corporate executive on a booze and sex-fuelled business trip, European companies in Africa and Asia abuse and harass the very unions they treat with respect back home.
And they behave especially badly when they’re in the USA, using ‘local culture’ as an excuse for union busting, discrimination and refusing to bargain collectively. German car companies, who provide some of the best examples of social partnership in their own backyard, have been particularly egregious offenders: such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen. But developments at the VW plant at Chattanooga, Tennessee, could see that change.
US and European trade unions are looking to the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – the EU-US trade deal currently being negotiated – as a catalyst that could bring more European-style industrial relations into the anti-union environment of the USA. If it doesn’t, union support for the deal is likely to be lost. So what happens in Chattanooga could be a game-changer.
The VW management in Tennessee are talking with the UAW about a possible deal that would see union recognition and a Works Council all at once. The UAW are pledging that this will mean collective bargaining done as a partnership, wary of criticism from southern politicians who claim that the non-union offer – in contrast to the unionised car plants of Chicago and Detroit – is what has drawn foreign car companies (Asian as well as European) to their states, although there are several US car companies in those states who still recognise the UAW without apparent problems.
But that criticism has turned vitriolic as VW move closer to an agreement with the UAW. Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker are opposed to the deal, with Sen Corker going so far as to say of VW management:
“It’s still incomprehensible to me that they would be where they are. I’m discouraged and I do hope they will pull back from this.”
Republicans are worried that if the VW plant goes union, foreign car companies across the southern states will come under irresistible pressure to do likewise. And that’s certainly what trade unions on both sides of the Atlantic are hoping the EU-US trade negotiations will encourage. But if the VW Tennessee plan doesn’t get a union, then it could be ‘Chattanooga boo hoo’ for the TTIP.