The UAW's cooperative partnership with the Detroit 3 helped the union get an organizing election at Volkswagen in Chattanooga.
But the employer-friendly strategy that gave rise to a pernicious two-tier wage system in 2007 and other Detroit 3 concessions over the past decade proved the union's undoing.
The 1,550 hourly workers at Chattanooga just saw too little to gain for paying dues.
One VW worker voting against the union said UAW-represented auto workers haven't had a wage increase in 10 years. Another did so because he already earns more than two-tier workers -- those new Detroit 3 hires who earn half what veterans do.
For a decade, the UAW has negotiated contracts with an eye toward helping the Detroit 3. The latest was in 2011. Though the carmakers were again profitable and headed for years of strong vehicle sales, the UAW didn't try to win a wage increase or battle the two-tier system.
Instead, President Bob King meekly took additional profit sharing and promised to get tougher in the 2015 round of talks. VW workers noticed.
Political interference didn't cause the defeat. VW management shot down a lie the plant would lose product if the UAW won.
No, the cards in this election were stacked in favor of the UAW and the union still lost. VW was neutral on the vote and let the union campaign in the plant.
Ultimately, all the UAW had to sell were soft concepts such as worker democracy and strong health and safety standards that workers already enjoy.
During the bailouts, concessions were needed, especially an end to the Jobs Bank. But two-tier wages predated the bailouts, and when the current contract ends in 2015, UAW veterans will have endured 12 years without a wage increase.
In short, the UAW has swung the pendulum too far toward cooperative partnership and away from hard-nosed bargaining for members.
For any chance of organizing the transplants, the UAW must reverse that trend.