Labor Rights and WrongsPosted: December 9, 2013
An op-ed in this morning’s Tennessean by my friend and Vanderbilt colleague Dan Cornfield calls elected officials in Tennessee to account for their vocal opposition to unionization at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant. Cornfield is alluding, presumably, to comments from the likes of Gov. Bill Haslam, who responded back in March to reports of UAW involvement at VW that “I would hate for anything to happen that would hurt the productivity of the plant or to deter investment in Chattanooga.” And to Sen. Bob Corker, who in September said that allowing the UAW into VW’s Tennessee plant would make the company a “laughingstock in the business world.”
Turns out we already have many of these laughingstocks, as Cornfield points out:
The public officials’ claims that unionization hinders Tennessee’s economic development are at best unmindful of the positive economic impact of these corporations. Many large, private Tennessee employers have union collective bargaining agreements with some or all of their employees, including Alstom Power, AT&T, Bridgestone, Carlex, CSX, FedEx, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Kroger, Lear, Medical Action Industries, Norfolk Southern, St. Francis Hospital, Sharp Manufacturing, Southwest Airlines, Tyson Foods, UPS and Voith.
To Cornfield’s argument about “the positive economic impact of unionized corporations on the prestige and growth of the sate economy,” I would add that we’re talking about basic labor rights here. Haslam, Corker, and their fellow anti-union travelers seem to need reminding that collective bargaining is a fundamental human right codified in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which of course the U.S. helped draft and voted to adopt over half a century ago):
Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Elected officials who are ignorant of basic rights are far more likely to make the state a “laughingstock” than the exercise of those rights by working Tennesseans.
A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.