Here’s a tale of two factories and the way the public feels about those who labor there. Nothing could be more iconic than an automobile factory where workers put in eight or more hours a day on the assembly line. The work is boring, the pace unrelenting and injuries are not uncommon, but the pay is better than working in fast food or at Wal-Mart. Volkswagen’s modern, efficient Chattanooga factory is such a place.

Then there are the “football factories.” A good one is at Northwestern University, where players are formally enrolled as students, but they spend the bulk of their time in practice for several months of the year. Their tuition and living expenses are paid through an athletic scholarship, the value of which is often more than an autoworker earns in a year. At Northwestern, 97 percent of these players are said to graduate.

In both these factories the workers are trying to unionize. Northwestern has been in the news because a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that though football players are labeled as students, they actually spend most of their time as de facto employees under the boss-like supervision of well-compensated sports professionals.

This decision, certain to be appealed, has won much applause, even among sports columnists and other commentators not previously known for pro-union sentiments.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, an effort by the United Auto Workers to win a NLRB representation election at VW was defeated amidst a barrage of anti-union invective by many of the most influential state officeholders as well as powerful conservative lobby groups.