A Step Backward for Labor

Conservatives foiled an innovative union plan at a VW plant—and now everyone loses

  • Mark Elias / Bloomberg / Getty Images

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    I've heard from VW workers who felt frightened by conservative talk about job losses that might result from unionization, which may be a reason some voted no. I've heard from others within the plant who believe that VW was already offering such a good deal--starting pay is $15, a lot more than it is for many other blue collar jobs in the community--that workers simply decided not to risk rocking the boat. But the sad fact is that what started as an innovative new idea to improve labor relations and productivity turned into an ugly political mess. We need a new way to think about labor relations. Americans are often frightened by labor power because they believe that higher wages mean lost jobs. But this is a point hotly debated by economists, many of whom believe that the wealth-enhancing effect of higher pay would lead to higher consumer spending and thus higher economic growth. Certainly it's true that as unions have declined in this country--membership among workers is only 11% today, down from a peak of 35% in the mid-1950s--wages have flattened for all Americans. Plenty of experts believe sluggish U.S. wage growth is a real problem in a country in which consumer spending is 70% of the total economic pie.

    The UAW is considering appealing the result; U.S. labor laws would have barred any company in an NLRB vote from threatening workers' jobs, but politicians were under no such stricture, which seems unfair. Workers are voicing their opinions in other ways. In the window of one truck in the VW parking lot, a pro-UAW sign has been replaced by another that reads, Bob Corker sucks.

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