Tennessee Paper Pushes Koch-Connected Anti-Union Message Ahead Of UAW Vote

A misleading op-ed in Chattanooga's Times Free Press, co-written by a Koch and ALEC ally, falsely claimed creating a union in a local Volkswagen plant would negatively impact the state economy and plant relations, despite evidence to the contrary.

The February 12 op-ed co-authored by Justin Owen of the Koch-tied Beacon Center and anti-union UAW member Terry Bowman misleadingly accused unions of threatening jobs and economic opportunity in the state and claimed workers could have an equal voice in plant decisions without a union:

When all is said and done, the UAW is a hyper-political organization with perspectives and policies contrary to those of many of the workers it claims to represent. The union has a history of using workers' dues to influence elections at all levels of government. Those policies have failed in Detroit and do not fit in a state like Tennessee that is trying to create automotive jobs and economic opportunity. And while many of Tennessee's auto workers have already expressed their opposition to the UAW, the battle is far from over.

Workers should absolutely have the opportunity to freely associate with each other and explore with their respective employers ways to improve their workplace and the quality of the products they produce. At the same time, Volkswagen can allow this to happen by using current, nonunion workers, instead of insisting that only a UAW-represented plant can enter into a works council agreement.

The anti-union reaction from Owen is no surprise as his organization, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, is a registered member of the State Policy Network (SPN). According to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy, the SPN and its member organizations “are major drivers of the right-wing” agenda:

Although many of SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, our in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.

Owen's co-author, Terry Bowman, is a UAW member and founder of the Union Conservatives, a group dedicated to advancing right-to-work laws that weaken unions. As a due-paying member, Bowman is often relied upon by conservative media outlets to fabricate union member dissatisfaction.

Despite Bowman and Owen's claims, without a union, the workers have no guarantee their input will be considered and no mechanism to hold management accountable if they seek change. With Chattanooga the only Volkswagen plant in the U.S. lacking a union, the German company has seen the benefits organization has brought to other plants, and is in support of the UAW movement in Tennessee.

Volkswagen backs the organization effort because it makes economic sense, as shown by their other unionized plants. As The Washington Post noted, Volkswagen understands “how having a union can boost productivity and allow it greater flexibility in adjusting to downturns.” And as Harley Shaiken, a professor at UC Berkley, explained, giving workers a voice in their plants has already been good for business -- Volkswagen has led all major automakers in raising shareholder value over the last three years and was “virtually tied for second place in global auto production in 2012.”

Furthermore, other unions in Tennessee haven't hurt the state's competitiveness or business climate. As Shaiken explained, a nearby, unionized General Motors plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, just announced an investment of $350 million that will support 2,000 jobs. In addition, unions around the country have repeatedly been shown to boost productivity and allow greater flexibility during economic downturns, restoring demand to the economy by raising wages which enables more hiring and decreases inequality. UAW affiliated workers, such as those at Ford Motor Co.'s, also saw an extra $8,800 last year, after the company had record profits in North America of $8.8 billion.

The effort to organize the Tennessee Volkswagen plant will not only benefit the company and the state -- the individual worker should see personal benefits increase. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 unionized workers had median usual weekly earnings of $950, compared to $750 for their non-unionized counterparts. And the Economic Policy Institute found that unionized workers are 53.9 percent more likely than non-unionized workers to have employer-provided pensions. Others have pointed out that “unions restore demand” to the economy by raising wages and “putting more purchasing power to work.”