When hourly workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga assembly plant vote this week on whether to join the UAW, there will be more at stake than union representation in a single plant.
People far removed from Chattanooga have imbued the election with vast import, a watershed event in U.S. economic history. The UAW and its supporters see it as a pivot point to reverse the long decline in automotive unionism. Political opponents warn that a UAW win in Tennessee could lead to greater unionization of the South and blunt the region's competitive edge in manufacturing. Both Tennessee U.S. senators openly oppose the UAW. The National Right to Work Committee has filed legal challenges to UAW campaign methods.
It has been tough to organize in the South. The UAW represents workers in Detroit 3 and supplier plants and in two Northern plants originally set up as joint ventures, but not in any other Southern assembly plants.
But this time VW has said it is neutral about union representation. Labor leaders and some Volkswagen AG leaders would like the U.S. plant to have representation on the automaker's global works council, which requires U.S. unionization. In Germany, VW is a symbol of national co-determination, the system of management-labor cooperation in which labor members make up half a corporation's board of supervisors.
Whatever outsiders care to read into this, the Feb. 12-14 vote belongs to the 1,500 plant workers themselves.
The National Labor Relations Board must ensure that the UAW, VW, politicians and all other interested parties do not unduly influence the election. Outsiders should back off. Let VW workers determine their own future.