'Threaten our jobs and values': Southern politicians ramp up campaign against UAW organizing

Luke Ramseth, The Detroit News on

Published in Business News

Political opposition to the United Auto Workers’ southern organizing push is cranking up ahead of a first test of the union’s strength this week at Volkswagen AG’s Tennessee plant, where a worker vote on whether to join the union runs Wednesday to Friday.

A Tuesday joint statement from the Republican governors of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas is the most forceful example of the anti-UAW political campaign so far, warning if the union is successful, it will threaten jobs and halt the region’s rapid recent auto manufacturing sector growth.

“As governors, we have a responsibility to our constituents to speak up when we see special interests looking to come into our state and threaten our jobs and the values we live by,” the governors wrote of the UAW’s organizing campaign, which has tabbed the Tennessee Volkswagen plant plus Mercedes-Benz Group AG and Hyundai Motor Co. plants in Alabama as its early targets.

After opposing past union campaigns at its Chattanooga plant, Volkswagen says it’s remaining neutral as its workers vote this week. But the joint statement from the governors — as well as recent press conferences held outside the plant — suggest the region’s conservative politicians plan to fight the union’s expansion aggressively.

Some have raised concerns about both the union’s Democratic-leaning politics, mentioning how it endorsed President Joe Biden for reelection. But a primary concern centers on how an expanded UAW presence in the South could tarnish the region's signature economic development reputation of having low unionization rates and robust right-to-work laws.

“The experience in our states is when employees have a direct relationship with their employers, that makes for a more positive working environment. They can advocate for themselves and what is important to them without outside influence,” wrote the governors, who pointed to examples of layoffs and plant closures at UAW plants as additional reasons to be wary of the union. The UAW declined to comment on the governors' statement.


In a visit to Chattanooga last week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said a vote in favor of the UAW would be a "big mistake" and that workers shouldn't "risk their futures," by endorsing the union. "We've seen plants close that made a decision to go to unions," he said, according to media reports.

And before that, a group of Republican elected officials from surrounding Hamilton County also held a news conference outside the plant to urge workers to vote no.

"The UAW is a sinking ship," said Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp, adding that the "UAW cares a whole lot more about politics than its membership." Wamp declined an interview request from The Detroit News this week.

Further south, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey was already speaking out against the UAW before the joint statement, recently writing on social media that this "threat from Detroit" could hurt the state's growing auto industry, which led the nation with more than $11 billion in passenger vehicle exports in 2023, according to the World Institute of Strategic Economic Trade.


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