This no longer makes sense. Employers have little reason to create fake unions today—few feel they need them to fend off organizing drives. Union membership has dropped below 7 percent in the private sector.
But many companies do want to hear their employees’ concerns. Rank-and-file workers know things that senior management does not. And businesses want to attract and retain quality employees. The entire “human resource” philosophy emphasizes the fact that workers are a company’s most valuable asset. Most employers want to keep their employees happy if they can. Employee participation programs can improve morale and working conditions.
This explains why Volkswagen’s management wanted employees at their Chattanooga plant to unionize. Volkswagen has work councils in all of its German factories. With work councils, employee representatives formally discuss concerns with management representatives. They enable companies to get input and consult their workers before making changes. German work councils often help plants to operate safely and productively.
Volkswagen has found its plants run better with work councils, so management wanted one in Chattanooga. Yet Volkswagen could not simply create one. As Electromation learned the hard way, that violates the NLRA. To form a works council, the workers first needed to unionize.
So Volkswagen’s management invited the UAW in. The company gave union organizers free run of the plant. Management held meetings—on the clock—for union representatives to make their pitch. The company did everything but roll out a red carpet for the UAW. Yet on election day, in the privacy of the voting booth, a majority of workers voted against unionizing.
Volkswagen’s employees had many reasons for voting no. Some told reporters they disliked the union’s politics (it spent millions to reelect President Obama). The UAW alleges that vocal opposition from local politicians moved votes against them. Many workers said they liked their jobs and felt respected at work; even UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams calls Volkswagen’s management “a class act.” Still more feared winding up like Detroit. In the words of one employee: "We felt like we were already being treated very well … [and we] looked at the track record of the UAW. Why buy a ticket on the Titanic?"
Given the choice between the UAW or nothing, Volkswagen’s employees preferred nothing. Another worker asked about the union told reporters, “I just don’t trust them.” Many workers simply do not want to unionize.
A collective contract—which necessarily ignores individual skills and contributions—appeals to fewer workers today than in the past. Further, polls find large majorities of workers feel respected by their company and satisfied with their jobs. Adversarial collective bargaining does not interest them. Alan Krueger, the former chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, finds that U.S. union membership has fallen primarily because fewer workers want to unionize.