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UAW hits major threshold in organizing drive at Volkswagen in Tennessee

Breana Noble, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

More than 30% of Volkswagen AG workers at the German automaker's only U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., have signed union authorization cards in less than a week, the United Auto Workers said in a news release Thursday.

That includes more than 1,000 workers, according to the union, which last week formally launched a campaign to organize workers at 13 non-union automakers across the country. Hitting the milestone means the organizing drive is going public there.

If 50% of workers sign authorization cards at the plant, the UAW says it will hold a rally there. If it receives 70% support, that's when it would demand recognition from the company, or else request a National Labor Relations Board election. The threshold needed to be able to pursue an NLRB election, though, is 30%.

“People are standing up like never before,” Steve Cochran, a skilled trades worker and leader of the workers building the union at Volkswagen, said in a statement provided by the UAW. “There are a lot of young workers in the plant now and this generation wants respect. They’re not okay with mistreatment by management. They see what’s happening at Starbucks and Amazon. They know that standing up to join the union is how you win fair treatment, fair pay and a better life.”

The Detroit News emailed a request for comment to a VW spokesperson.

Organizing foreign-owned assembly plants has been a long-sought goal that turned out to be just out of reach for the UAW as the Detroit Three's market share has fallen from competition. Many plants were built in right-to-work and southern states.

 

Tennessee is a right-to-work state, but General Motors Co. has an enormous Spring Hill Manufacturing campus southwest of Nashville. Hourly workers at the plant, which employs nearly 4,000 people, are organized. Chattanooga is about two-and-a-half hours southeast of Spring Hill.

It's not the first time the UAW has pursued an organizing drive at the VW plant. In 2019, VW workers at the plant voted 51.8% against union representation 833 to 776. There also was a narrow defeat in 2014.

UAW President Shawn Fain last week told The News that thousands of workers at non-union auto plants have shown their support. The union's campaign is seeking to build off the momentum of three new four-and-a-half-year contracts at the Detroit Three that secured wage increases, cost-of-living adjustments, billions of dollars in investments and increased retirement contributions. Fain declined to provide a timeline or budget for the campaign.

In the wake of the UAW-Detroit Three agreements, some automakers like Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. said they were increasing wages, decreasing timelines to the top pay and improving benefits for their own workers.

The union has set up a website, uaw.org/vw, where workers can learn more and legally sign up to support representation.


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