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


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.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.