The only auto manufacturing plant I've worked for was owned by the Japanese. I've been in other plants. I've been in GM and Ford facilities. Although I've not been through all of it, I have been on the docks at Ford's River Rouge plant and seen cars come out the other end at Dearborn. I have a tremendous respect for the industry and I recognize its importance in the 20th century. While I don't consider my self an expert on the auto industry, I'm not a novice either.
The headline for this story caught my eye:
VW workers may block southern U.S. deals if no unions: labor chief
The first rule of understanding Labor Unions, is if the labor organizer is saying it, its probably a lie. If a newspaper is reporting it, its probably a bigger lie. Earlier this month workers at a VW plant in Tennessee voted to not let the UAW organize in the plant. That means that the workers believe that they are better off without a union, or at least without the UAW. No one has explored why this is. Maybe the workers have seen what the UAW and its policies have done for Detroit and Flint Michigan. Maybe they don't feel like forking over a couple of hours pay to make UAW fat cats fatter. Whatever the reason they told the UAW to take a hike.
Since the UAW can't recognize that they are bad for industry, jobs and the economy they are restarting the campaign to unionize the plant by making it appear that the management at VW won't build more plants in the southern US unless they are unionized. They point to the company culture at VW that utilizes a "Workers Council". What they don't say is that the plant is perfectly capable of having a "workers council" without the UAW.
We had something similar to a workers council when I was a shop rat. They called them efficiency committees. The Japanese management team was very serious about the concept.
The plant I worked for built window regulators. Those are the things that make the window in your car go up and down. I built the right hand side regulator for the Ford Escort.
My job was running a spot welder that fastened mounting brackets on to the main rail. My job consisted of place a rail, place two brackets, hit the buttons, watch it weld, put the part in the parts bin, repeat. We had a very efficient team of warehouse guys that would move the parts bins around and make sure everyone had what they needed.
The warehouse guys would bring me rails and brackets form the stamping department and then take my bins to the various lines where they would finish assembling them. That was the system. One of the ladies working the line directly behind me on the plant floor ran out of assembled rails, on two different days. I don't remember why the forklift guys didn't get the parts moved on time but they didn't and this almost caused the line to go down. Stopping the production line is one of the cardinal sins of the auto business.
In her desire to not get in deep doo doo for letting the line run out of parts, she came over to me and asked me to carry a bin of parts over to her work station. A full parts bin was much to heavy to carry by hand. Someone quickly found a 4 wheeled dolly and helped me put a partial bin on it and wheel it over to the line. The line stayed up and the day was saved. Till it happened a second time.
That's when the efficiency committee was brought in. They investigated. They talked to everyone involved. They checked out if I had made enough parts (I had several bins ready to restock the lines), they checked out what the forklift guy was doing (he wasn't goofing off). Then they asked her, I can't remember her name, what she thought could be done to fix the problem. Her suggestion was to place the spot welder closer to the line so they wouldn't have to wait for the fork lift. Nobody else had a better solution.
You know what plant management did? They got the engineers looking into what it would cost to move a multi-million dollar welder and redesign the floor layout. I am convinced that they would have done it too. Part of the decision making process was to bring the full efficiency committee together to evaluate the solution. As they contemplated the situation someone from stamping mentioned that they used roller counters to move the bins around their department (a roller counter is a metal counter with lots of little moving wheels that makes sliding heavy bins easy). A couple of days latter there was a roller counter installed, with the promise that if it didn't work management would consider moving the spot welder. It worked. I went to college in the fall.
VW knows these types of working groups are good for the company. VW knows that they can form these kinds of groups by letting people working in the different departments select their co-works to represent them. No one needs the UAW to oversee the process. I suspect that is exactly what they will do. As for the bit about VW not wanting to build another plant in the US, BS! What company wouldn't want to build its cars in an environment where the workers are happy and don't want some professional agitator messing things up for them? In case no one noticed, there were tens of thousands of square feet of industrial space available in the rust belt that VW could have acquired cheaper than building a plant in Tennessee. Labor laws and the labor culture suck in those states.