- - Friday, June 6, 2014

The United Auto Workers (UAW) has for years tried to organize foreign-owned auto plants in the South. Chief among its targets have been the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Mercedes facility in Vance, Ala.

Last February, though, VW employees rejected the union in a secret-ballot vote, 712-626. Now comes more bad news for UAW bosses: Their supporters in Alabama are telling them to go back to Detroit.

“This [organizing drive] has gone on for 2 years, and people are burned out,” explained Kirk Garner, a union supporter who has worked at the Mercedes plant for more than a dozen years. “It’s over.”

Jim Spitzley, another veteran Mercedes worker, is likewise fed up with the UAW’s bungling campaign and myopic vision. “It’s all about the image with the UAW,” he laments, “it’s not about the workers.” As a consequence, he says, “there’s a lot of people that will not sign a card with the UAW. They’re tired of it.”

In spite of these high-profile setbacks in Alabama and Tennessee, the UAW is set to raise dues on its members. On June 3, at the union’s 36th Constitutional Convention in Detroit, outgoing President Bob King successfully pushed through his long-desired 25 percent dues hike, which will bring in an estimated $45 million annually to UAW coffers.

There’s no question the union needs the money — its membership has been in free-fall for decades. In 1979, it could field a formidable 1.5 million-strong army. Now fewer than 400,000 count themselves card-carrying members (and half of those do not even come from the auto industry, but hold teaching, nursing and related jobs in both the public and private sectors).

The question many union members are asking is: Does the union deserve more money from us, in light of its disastrous stewardship of its finances?

Take, for example, the $6.7 million golf course the union bought in 2000 as an addition to its $33 million luxury resort in Onaway, Mich. Fox Business reported on the debacle: “From 2005 to 2010, the resort lost an estimated $23 million, and the UAW has been forced to borrow to keep it afloat.”

Then there was the strike against Caterpillar, which cost the union an estimated $300 million. The failed effort at Volkswagen cost the union an estimated $5 million.

And on and on. No wonder the union has been bleeding cash. In 2006, the strike fund was a fat $1 billion; now it’s depleted to a mere $600 million. Why? According The Detroit News, “The union has tapped its strike fund over the last few years by $30 million to $40 million a year to pay operating expenses.”

Union bosses waste money on fancy resorts and fat salaries for themselves. (Top leaders, such as Mr. King and new UAW President Dennis Williams, easily qualify as the “1 percenters” they hypocritically castigate.) Their organizing drives down South do nothing to benefit their Detroit members, whose pockets are picked to fund these shenanigans.

The pocket-picking will soon come to an end. Michigan is now a right-to-work state, which means next year Detroit autoworkers will at last be free to opt out of paying the UAW work tax.

Mr. King and Mr. Williams claim not to be worried. I’d wager otherwise. The UAW has a record that speaks for itself, a record of crippling industry and killing jobs, of forcing workers onto its rolls and then wasting their money. In Alabama and Tennessee, workers have looked at this record and said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

It’s only a matter of time before Detroit workers say likewise.

Matt Patterson is executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom at Americans for Tax Reform.