The failure of the United Auto Workers to organize the workers at Volkswagen Chattanooga is symptomatic of a larger problem, says the Urbanophile:
If you look at it, unions may be on the last institutions in America that haven’t rethought their business model for the 21st century. They still want to play hardball to organize, then insist on things like crazy work rule systems and puristic seniority pay structures, political advocacy, etc. What has that gotten them? The private sector is down to like 6% unionized, much of it in industries that are increasingly subject to foreign competition and thus whose management cannot give much away without sabotaging their business.
Then again, America’s hilariously outmoded labor laws don’t give them a whole lot of choice in the matter: the cozy relationship that exists between VW and its German unions is not only nonexistent here, it’s actually illegal.
Still, it’s not like the whole concept is dead just yet:
The one part of the union movement that still seems to be doing fairly well is the trade unions. Many of them have long operated on this model. You get into the union where the union trains you and are staffed on a project basis (e.g., constructing a bridge). The union delivers your benefits and pensions, based on payments from the employers… Trade unions and their hiring halls are basically contract consulting providers of the type that routinely provide technical employees to major corporations. Why can’t other unions, reconstituted as a type of worker’s collective, do the same thing? And unlike contracting firms, they wouldn’t have to take nearly as big a middleman’s cut.
This might not work particularly well in automotive: to make the model properly functional, you presumably need, not large volumes of work in a few places, but smaller volumes of work all over the place. But it’s a model that’s worked in many trades, and if there’s anything Big Labor needs right now, it’s a model that works.