A heated discussion brought out questions and answers on many people's minds about the pros and cons of unions during the town hall meeting on unions and jobs hosted by NewsChannel9 at Chattanooga State Community College Thursday night.
Four panelists fielded questions from concerned citizens, two on each side to argue for and against unionization at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. The United Autoworkers Union has been trying to gain support there for months.
"If you look at what unions promote, you're looking at a higher standard of living," said Gary Watkins, a panelist and representative from the IBEW. "You're looking at higher social standards, looking at healthcare for the mass population, really, not provided by the government."
Other panelists against unions sounded off to audience members and viewers from home and online.
"The union has to make its pitch to the workers, and they appear, from what we're reading, to be doing that at the behest of the Workers Council in Germany, which raises a lot of international legal issues," said Dr. Charles Van Eaton, an economics professor at Bryan College.
Some VW workers came to get their questions answered about what they have heard about the union. During the discussion, the audience showed great support for VW workers forming a union.
There were spirited moments on both sides, and at one point the debate turned political when a panelist against unions called Congress members organized criminals. But each panelist had a bottom line to clear up confusion about unions.
"The right to work simply means the right to join or not join a union. At-will employment means your employer can come in, no matter how long you've been employed there and for no reason, (and) say you no longer work here," said Watkins. After the meeting, Watkins said he felt everyone in the audience understood what a union is and the benefits it can offer workers.
Van Eaton said he felt differently. He said he didn't think the audience understood his point that unions will give workers what they want only if consumers continue to buy from VW.
"I will tell you as someone who worked in a factory and who is an economist, that what's best for you is that Volkswagen be profitable enough to want to continue to make cars they can sell because that's where your income comes from, not from Volkswagen but from people who buy Volkswagen cars," said Van Eaton.By Briona Arradondo