Volkswagen US still driving toward unionization

volkswagenBack in February, German automaker Volkswagen’s U.S. division attempted to unionize their own workers in Tennessee, the center of union-free US auto manufacturing. That effort was thwarted by illegal interference by anti-union politicians and threats of cancellation of state subsidies and incentives. But it didn’t stop the company’s pro-union management.

As I explained in February, most major German corporations are big fans of cooperating closely with unions (at least far more than their American or British counterparts). This cooperation increases social-corporate harmony and it encourages win-win negotiations instead of everyone trying to bleed everyone else dry. This tradition of having unions and management work together in formalized joint committees, and (in Germany) even usually having the companies partly owned by the workers themselves to give them an official say in management and a stake in the company’s long-term health, has been a key tool for consensus-building and smoothing potential tensions over.

Despite the defeat in February, a collection of over 700 workers in Chattanooga voluntarily formed their own United Auto Workers local later in the year for the purposes of eventually unionizing the company’s labor force, as desired by management. Initially, it seemed like this might be delayed until some time well into 2015 by the setback in February and the local political opposition.

But Volkswagen is so determined to unionize its US employees over the objections of Tennessee Republicans (and to get around so-called “Right to Work” anti-union laws) that they held negotiations with the United Auto Workers in Germany to come to an arrangement to bring a union on board for its workers. Reportedly, they will be partially recognizing unionization of their Tennessee workers some time in the next few days. The UAW says that the interim deal, in place at least until a final vote to unionize (which will still have to come later), does not cover collective bargaining but does allow for a clear process of worker-management meetings, in the aforementioned German postwar tradition.

From the Wall Street Journal summary, the German approach is precisely what the company hoped to implement at minimum:

The new policy could allow the auto maker to accomplish its goal of establishing a German-style “works council” where workers and managers set up the rules and operations for the plant, but might prevent the UAW from gaining full bargaining control at the plant because of the presence of smaller unions.

The company said it is creating three tiers of representation for workers based on the percentage of hourly workers who sign up. The rule is expected to allow a UAW local that claims more than half the plant’s hourly work force has joined it to gain influence at the plant, but it also allows for other unions to set up shop.

Volkswagen said the new policy will govern its interactions with labor organizations who represent a significant percentage of factory employees. Volkswagen will use an external auditor to verify the percentage “to determine what level of engagement has been reached,” it said.
[…]
VW has a works council at most of its plants and would like to have one in the U.S. These worker-management groups set up schedules, benefits, operations and even take part in the business side of the operation. Under U.S. labor law, workers can’t participate in a works council unless they are represented by an independent union, and not a “company union.”

 
The remaining big question is whether the UAW can overcome the opposition of anti-UAW workers and Tennessee officials who are putting together a rival “union” to dilute the future bargaining power of the UAW within the Tennessee operation of Volkswagen.

Foreign human rights investigators arrested by Qatar government

Not a great couple weeks for Qatar, in their quest to present a good face to the Western world via soft power campaigns. The latest development was that two British human/labor rights investigators, representing a Norwegian organization, disappeared suddenly on assignment in Qatar. Al Jazeera America, the US arm of the Qatari royal family’s media empire, reported that the government had confirmed yesterday that it had arrested them. They are still in detention but have now been afforded access to representatives from the British embassy.

In the first official comments made by the emirate in regards to the missing men, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the pair were “being interrogated for having violated the provisions of the laws of the state of Qatar,” the Qatar News Agency reported.

The announcement follows calls on Qatar from rights groups including Amnesty International to reveal the whereabouts and ensure the safety of the two men, named as Krishna Upadhyaya and Ghimire Gundev.

Researcher Upadhyaya, 52, and Photographer Gundev, 36, work for the Norway-based Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD).

Both went missing on Aug. 31 as they were preparing to leave Qatar. GNRD had suggested that Qatari security services were behind their disappearance and has called for both men’s release.

On Sunday, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said that all actions taken against the men are “consistent with the principles of human rights” outlined in the laws of Qatar, and that British Embassy officials have visited them to check on their situation.

 
Qatar, slated to host the 2022 World Cup, has been plagued with serious and credible allegations of migrant worker abuse and enslavement generally, as well as specifically with relation to World Cup construction activities. Other British investigators delivered a damning report at the start of 2014 alleging that 4,000 enslaved workers were projected to die during World Cup preparation between now and 2022. The overall foreign worker population in Qatar is more than six times the size of the ruling Qatari population, at about 1.65 million to 250,000. The foreign population has grown very sharply in the past few years so the numbers are a bit hard to track. The ruling family and local citizens are extremely wealthy.

But the other recent development has been on the topic of Qatar’s increasingly hard to ignore state sponsorship of terrorism across the globe. It’s by no means new — involving a mix of official government money and “fundraising” by local and foreign Gulf-area plutocrats, all flowing into active conflict zones — but the condemnation is starting to intensify as Qatar continues to funnel donations, weapons, and ransom payments to extreme groups so destabilizing and threatening that virtually every other country in the area has opposed or abandoned them publicly, despite their own past histories with terror sponsorship. The cozy relationship that allows for easy “negotiation” with terrorist organizations holding kidnapped Western citizens is rapidly becoming more of a reputation liability than a strategic asset. Even Qatar’s support for somewhat more moderate organizations has been criticized heavily because it has become out of step with the agenda of the other regional powers.

(The New York Times today also attributed the rising criticism and attention in Western media to the fact that Qatar’s regional rivals have been hiring U.S. consulting firms in Washington to feed stories to journalists on the subject. But one also suspects that the sheer clash of Qatar’s soft power pretensions and modernizing aims with its terrorism ties and slave labor is a pretty tempting target for journalists anyway.)

For the latest discussion of 2018 Russian and 2022 Qatari World Cup controversies and potential consequences, listen to my radio segment with Nate on last week’s Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 98 Part 2:
Part 2 – Russian and Qatari World Cups – AFD 98

For our prior discussion of the problems surrounding the Qatar World Cup, listen to my radio segment with Nate on Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 87 Part 2 – FIFA/World Cup:
Part 2 – FIFA World Cup – AFD 87

Flag of Qatar.

Flag of Qatar.