Dealt A Recent Defeat, Union Organizers Plot A Future In The South

The AFL-CIO executive committee is meeting in Texas this week to discuss the United Auto Workers' defeat in efforts to organize a Tennessee Volkswagen plant. Committee member hope to decipher what it may mean for other union membership drives across the South.

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The United Auto Workers Union suffered a major defeat when a drive to represent workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee failed last week. Right now, leaders of the AFL-CIO are holding their winter meetings in Houston and that VW vote is a major topic.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has more.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Make no mistake. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is angry about the very narrow loss for labor at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant. He places the blame on Republican-elected officials in the state who aggressively campaigned against the UAW, even though the company did not oppose the union.

RICHARD TRUMKA: You had a governor, you had the head of the legislature, you had a U.S. senator saying to workers: If you exercise your right, we're going to take away your job.

GONYEA: Actually those GOP lawmakers actually threatened the loss of tax incentives for the factory if the UAW won, and said a union at VW would scare away other big employers.

It was anti-union hardball in a region that has long been difficult for labor. Right-to-work laws make things tough. And the South doesn't have the history with unions that you find in Northern industrial states and on the West Coast.

Union leaders say don't blow the Chattanooga loss out of proportion. D. Taylor is president of the hotel/food and textile workers union known at UNITE HERE!.

D. TAYLOR: I don't know why unions are given a different standard than almost any other group. You have a first try. It didn't work. I mean, you know, Apple's first try at the Mac wasn't too well received. So, I view it that way.

GONYEA: Taylor says aggressive organizing in the South by his union and others will continue. And, in fact, some Southern states have seen small increases in the rate of union membership, though some in the region also report declines.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Houston.

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