Volkswagen Chattanooga Workers Request Union Election With UAW

Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have filed a petition seeking to hold a union election at their assembly plant, bringing the United Auto Workers to the cusp of a historic breakthrough in the U.S. South.

The UAW announced Monday morning that an overwhelming majority of employees there had signed union cards and asked the National Labor Relations Board to hold a vote. The union tried and failed to organize the full facility in previous campaigns, including a highly publicized 2014 effort in which the union lost 712-626.

The Chattanooga plant, which assembles the ID.4 and Atlas sport-utility vehicles, is one of several auto factories across the South where the UAW is organizing in the wake of its strike last year against Ford, General Motors and Jeep parent company Stellantis. The contract fight with the “Big Three” drew national attention and helped rehabilitate the UAW’s image after years of corruption scandals and high-profile election losses.

Now the union is hoping to parlay that victory into organizing success in Southern states where foreign-owned automakers have set up plants to take advantage of cheaper, non-union labor relative to the Midwest. Just 6% of workers in Tennessee are union members, compared with 10% in the U.S. generally.

The Volkswagen workers are the first of those new UAW campaigns in the South to request an election. Although it did not specify a percentage, the UAW said it had rounded up a “supermajority” of support on the factory floor in just a little over three months.


Isaac Meadows, an assembly worker at the plant, said in a statement through the union that he wanted to turn “a good job” into “a great career.”

“Right now we miss time with our families because so much of our paid-time-off is burned up during the summer and winter shutdowns,” Meadows said. “We shouldn’t have to choose between our family and our job.”

Workers assembling a vehicle at the Chattanooga plant in 2017. A union victory there would be a historic one for unions in the South.
Workers assembling a vehicle at the Chattanooga plant in 2017. A union victory there would be a historic one for unions in the South.

via Associated Press

The Chattanooga facility is German-owned Volkswagen’s only U.S. assembly plant, employing around 5,500 workers overall, according to the company. It’s not clear how many of those workers would be part of the union’s bargaining unit.

The labor board must confirm at least 30% of workers signed union authorization cards before scheduling an election, and the union must secure a majority of votes cast to win. However, unions typically don’t request an election until two-thirds or more of workers have come onboard, under the assumption support could fray due to pressure from the company.

Volkswagen did not oppose the UAW’s 2014 failed effort, making it appear the union might gain a long-sought toehold among foreign-owned auto companies in the South. But the campaign still drew fierce opposition from Tennessee politicians, with the governor and one of the state’s two senators urging workers to reject the UAW, and a state lawmaker threatening to end subsidies to the plant if workers unionized.

This time around, the UAW has publicly accused Volkswagen of forcing workers to sit through anti-union propaganda. The company acknowledged it had been holding small meetings with employees before shifts, but said it was “committed to providing accurate information that helps inform them of their rights and choices.”


Comments are closed.