A misleading op-ed in Chattanooga's Times Free Press, co-written by a Koch and ALEC ally, falsely claimed creating a union in a local Volkswagen plant would negatively impact the state economy and plant relations, despite evidence to the contrary.
The February 12 op-ed co-authored by Justin Owen of the Koch-tied Beacon Center and anti-union UAW member Terry Bowman misleadingly accused unions of threatening jobs and economic opportunity in the state and claimed workers could have an equal voice in plant decisions without a union:
When all is said and done, the UAW is a hyper-political organization with perspectives and policies contrary to those of many of the workers it claims to represent. The union has a history of using workers' dues to influence elections at all levels of government. Those policies have failed in Detroit and do not fit in a state like Tennessee that is trying to create automotive jobs and economic opportunity. And while many of Tennessee's auto workers have already expressed their opposition to the UAW, the battle is far from over.
Workers should absolutely have the opportunity to freely associate with each other and explore with their respective employers ways to improve their workplace and the quality of the products they produce. At the same time, Volkswagen can allow this to happen by using current, nonunion workers, instead of insisting that only a UAW-represented plant can enter into a works council agreement.
The anti-union reaction from Owen is no surprise as his organization, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, is a registered member of the State Policy Network (SPN). According to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy, the SPN and its member organizations "are major drivers of the right-wing" agenda:
Although many of SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, our in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.
Owen's co-author, Terry Bowman, is a UAW member and founder of the Union Conservatives, a group dedicated to advancing right-to-work laws that weaken unions. As a due-paying member, Bowman is often relied upon by conservative media outlets to fabricate union member dissatisfaction.
Two major Tennessee newspapers are aiding opposition to unionization efforts at a Volkswagen plant in the state by hiding the facts about union support and outside conservative influences.
This week workers at the Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee will vote on whether to become unionized under the United Automobile Workers (UAW) umbrella. A majority of the plant's workers have reportedly signed support cards backing a union, and while Volkswagen is not opposing the effort, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and outside conservative activist groups have mobilized a campaign to prevent the vote from succeeding.
Leading the charge is anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. The Center for Worker Freedom, a lobbying arm of Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, has rented at least 13 billboards around Chattanooga and booked commercials on local radio stations, publicly demonizing unions and the UAW.
And by omitting critical context in their coverage of the union vote, two prominent Tennessee newspapers are aiding these antiunion efforts.
This month the Chattanooga Times Free Press' devoted at least 25 posts to the looming unionization vote. But not one of those reports acknowledged that unionization enjoys majority support among the Volkswagen workers, including a February 9 article titled "UAW supporter sees victory in vote." The Times Free Press' only mention of Volkswagen worker support of unions was buried in the 13th paragraph of a broad February 2 report on unions in the South.
Similarly, The Knoxville News-Sentinel conspicuously avoided recognizing right-wing group's ties to the union opposition -- a feat, considering most of the paper's coverage this month leading up to the vote has focused on critics of the effort to unionize. In its one post acknowledging that the Center for Worker Freedom is behind recent anti-UAW ads, reprinted from the Times Free Press, the News-Sentinel chose not to include CWF's affiliation with Americans For Tax Reform or UAW's statement in response to critics, language included in the original post.
Such omissions are particularly notable given the crude nature of the conservative activist's advertisements. The Detroit Free Press wrote:
One shows Detroit's crumbling Packard Plant ruins that have been shuttered for 55 years. The copy reads: "Detroit. Brought to you by the UAW."
Another has a red X through the second word of United Auto Workers, with a crudely lettered Obama just beneath it. Beneath it in small print it reads: "The UAW spends millions to elect liberal politicans including Barack Obama." -- workerfreedom.org. (Note: Politicians is misspelled on the billboard.)
Labor experts have noted that it's unusual for a third party to be the main opposition to a private plant unionizing -- typically that role is played by the company itself, as The New York Times detailed:
'It's unusual how national groups have really gotten interested in this,' said Daniel B. Cornfield, a labor expert at Vanderbilt University. 'It seems that both the business community and labor are seeing what's happening at VW as a pivotal moment in the Southern automotive business and labor history.'
With Volkswagen taking a neutral stance on the effort, groups like CWF are picking up the baton for fear that if the UAW succeeds, other plants will follow suit. Thus "antiunion activists have been streaming into the city of 171,000 and organizing a campaign intent on keeping the UAW from gaining ground in the South," Wall Street Journal explained. But when local media hide that intent, it benefits only the lobbying groups, not local workers.