UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel sounded a little presumptuous last week when he said a UAW local at Volkswagen's Chattanooga assembly plant would soon be discussing "pay structure" with management.
After all, the UAW lost a union election early this year sanctioned by the National Labor Relations Board. And a new plant labor policy -- that allows recognition of employee groups -- expressly prohibits those groups from bargaining collectively on behalf of members.
But it seems to me that Casteel is reading the tea leaves right. The UAW is well on its way to representing the majority of the 1,500 hourly workers at VW Chattanooga despite the best efforts of right-to-work advocates and Tennessee politicians to keep the union out.
In the coming days, an independent accounting firm will likely verify that most workers at the plant have joined UAW Local 42. That membership threshold will give the local union access to top plant management at least once a month to discuss anything, including pay structure, Casteel notes.
At that point, employees not in the UAW local are going to see that their union co-workers have a seat at the table with management. And the wondering will begin: What are they gaining that I'm not? Wages, plum jobs, promotions?
And little by little, workers will join until the UAW has signed up enough members of the total work force that pay negotiations can begin or the union will feel comfortable asking for another NLRB-sanctioned election.
And the next time, should the UAW go the election route, no amount of outside money or opposition from a shrinking group of anti-UAW employees will prevent the UAW from officially turning VW Chattanooga into a UAW-represented plant.
The UAW is counting on the strategy playing out at other foreign-owned assembly plants in the South. Casteel and the UAW have established a union local next to the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala.