Volkswagen – More to the Story

In Germany, at least, and perhaps in other European countries there is active cooperation between organized labor and the company.  Management decisions are shared at Volkswagen where 10 representatives for management and 10 representatives from labor vote on such things as plant construction.

This has worked well for Volkswagen and is probably the reason they were open to the recent unionization vote in Tennessee.

Although I wasn’t aware of this NLRB rule, it creates an entirely different situation between management and labor in the U.S.

In the 1980s, many U.S. corporations, facing new competition from Japan and Germany, tried to copy their foreign competitors approach to labor-management relations by forming ‘worker committees’ designed to improve labor-management cooperation and productivity. Management at Motorola, AT&T, and and some smaller manufacturers all tried to form such committees so that employees would have a greater voice in how these companies were run.

But, in a series of decisions starting in 1992, the NLRB found that these employer-sponsored committees violated the National Labor Relations Act. Specifically, Section 8(a)(2) of the NLRA prohibits the “formation or administration of any labor organization” by an employer.

In other words, unlike Germany and Japan where labor law encourages labor-management relations by allowing (and sometimes even requiring) employer sponsored unions, American labor law, as interpreted by the NLRB, expressly forbids them.

Looks like we ought to consider changing the law to allow more cooperation between management and labor.  Conversely, maybe we should just continue to allow the unions to slowly die.

I’m not sure which would be better.  On the one hand I dislike unions, on the other we should recognize that as long as there is the blatantly adversarial relationship, workers run the risk of being ‘run over’ by management.  It may also be why unions are so blatantly political since they can only gain power by government coercion.

Maybe it’s time to take a page from Volkswagen, change the law and perhaps gain some cooperation.


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