UAW clinches watershed union victory at Volkswagen Tennessee factory

By Thomson Reuters Apr 19, 2024 | 9:14 PM

By Nora Eckert

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee (Reuters) – Workers at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant have voted to join the United Auto Workers, the union said on Friday, calling victory after an unofficial tally showed a majority of eligible workers had cast ballots in favor of the union.

The seismic win, if confirmed, will make the Chattanooga factory the first auto plant in the South to unionize via election since the 1940s and the first foreign-owned auto plant in the South to do so.

The union made the call after some 2,200 ballots were counted in favor of unionizing. The plant has about 4,300 eligible voters.

The victory is a huge shot in the arm for UAW President Shawn Fain’s campaign to unionize plants owned by more than a dozen automakers across the U.S., including Tesla. Fain and his team have committed to spending $40 million through 2026 on the effort.

Although the UAW narrowly lost votes at the same plant in 2014 and 2019, this year’s vote was preceded by surging public support for unions and successful contract negotiations last year with the Big Three automakers.

VW took a neutral position on the vote at its only non-union factory globally. The UAW has previously represented VW workers at a Pennsylvania plant that built Rabbit cars before it closed in 1988.

For decades, the union has struck out at southern auto plants. In addition to the two narrow losses at VW previously, it sustained three more significant misses at southern factories owned by Nissan, the last in 2017 in Mississippi.

The broader labor movement has since gone through somewhat of a renaissance, with a record number of workers across various industries going on strike last year.

Last autumn U.S. President Joe Biden walked picket lines outside Detroit, where the union scored double-digit percentage raises as well as cost-of-living increases from General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis. That sparked a wave of hikes by non-union automakers that some analysts said were designed to keep out unions.

A Mercedes plant in Alabama, at which a majority of workers have signed cards indicating they support unionization, will be the next facility to hold a UAW election, during the week of May 13.

The UAW has also said that more than 30% of employees at a Hyundai plant in Alabama and at a Missouri Toyota auto parts factory have signed cards indicating they want to join the UAW.

(Reporting by Nora Eckert; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Peter Henderson)