Timon Schneider | Dreamstime
Smart phone showing United Auto Workers union logo.

VW Workers Vote to Unionize

April 22, 2024
A significant majority of Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga, Tenn., supported a proposal to form a union – handing a win to the United Auto Workers in its effort to organize transplant auto plants.

An impressive majority of workers at the Volkswagen of America plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted to align with the United Auto Workers union. Workers at that plant had previously voted against unionization in 2014 and 2019, and the union leaders emphasized the importance of the 2,628 to 985 vote – a 73% margin by “the first Southern autoworkers outside of the Big Three to win their union.”

According to National Labor Relations Board regulations, both the union and the automaker may file objects to the election for up to five business days, after which NLRB will certify the result.

The next step will be negotiation of a contract by UAW and Volkswagen of America, under oversight or mediation by the NLRB, for approval by the plant’s workers.

Volkswagen – which employed a union workforce at the New Stanton, Penn., plant that it operated from 1978 to 1987 – acknowledged the results of the Chattanooga vote and added that it “will await certification of the results” by the NLRB.

The vote is also notable as the first move toward UAW affiliation by employees of a foreign-owned auto plant: VW builds the Atlas SUV and ID.4 electric SUV at Chattanooga. Tennessee and the surrounding states have been chosen by German, Japanese, and Korean automakers and their suppliers as the location for their U.S. manufacturing operations to some degree because the UAW has been unable to organize workers in that part of the country.

Prior to the vote on April 19, the governors of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas issued a joint statement urging workers to reject the UAW’s approach. “We have worked tirelessly on behalf of our constituents to bring good-paying jobs to our states. These jobs have become part of the fabric of the automotive manufacturing industry. Unionization would certainly put our states’ jobs in jeopardy — in fact, in this year already, all of the UAW automakers have announced layoffs,” according to the governors’ message.

The UAW – which last November won significant pay increases and other concessions from Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp, and Stallantis through a protracted strike last falls – has said it aims to organize about 150,000 more workers at 13 non-union automakers. It has scheduled a vote on unionization for workers at a Mercedes SUV plant in Vance, Ala., during the week of May 13. UAW also has targeted a Hyundai plant in Alabama and a Toyota auto parts plant in Missouri for organization efforts. Reportedly, UAW president Shawn Fain has committed $40 million for organizing efforts during the next two years.

"You all have just done the most important thing a working class person can do, and that is stand up," Fain told workers following the vote. "You guys will lead the way. We will carry this fight on to Mercedes and everywhere else."

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