UAW Files for New Union Election at Volkswagen in Chattanooga for 1,700 Workers

Today, the UAW announced that it’s filing for a new union election with the National Labor Relations Board for more than 1,700 production and maintenance workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The announcement comes fives year after the UAW lost a union election at the Chattanooga facility by mere 43 votes in February of 2014.

In December  2015, approximately 165 maintenance workers at the Volkswagen plant voted to join the union by a margin of 2-to-1. However, Volkswagen refused to recognize the union unless all of Volkswagen’s nearly 1,700 hourly production and maintenance workers were in the bargaining unit.

Now five years later, the UAW is hoping to try again in a union election for all of the plant’s 1,700 hourly workers.

“It’s time,” said Annette Stallion, a Chattanooga production worker on the day shift. “Our maintenance workers voted to form a union and VW still refused to bargain. They said they would bargain if production and maintenance workers voted – so let’s vote.”

The 2019 election comes in a very different political environment than in the failed 2014 election at Volkswagen.

In 2014, fear existed that the plant may close if it unionized. However, in recent years, Volkswagen has invested in opening a second assembly line, helping to alleviate those fears

In 2014, outside employer groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in political ads designed to defeat the union drive. However, after a series of wildcat teachers strikes in  Southern states, public support for organized labor has been growing.

Since the defeat of the UAW at Volkswagen in 2014, organized labor has also invested in supporting the building of labor-community coalitions in the Chattanooga area; helping to create groups like Chattanooga in Action for Love, Equality, and Benevolence (CALEB).

In addition, the local Chattanooga Democratic Party recently was taken off by Bernie Sanders supporters under the leadership of Khristy Wilkinson. Since the takeover in 2017, the Democratic Party in Chattanooga, which remained largely silent during the 2014 election, has become a more increasingly visible ally  of the labor movement in the Chattanooga.

Most importantly, this time around the UAW has no illusions that the Volkswagen may attempt to fight its  unionization efforts.

During the 2014 election at Volkswagen, the UAW signed a neutrality pledge with Volkswagen that prohibited the union from directly engaging in criticism of the company. As well, the neutrality agreement forbids the union from making house calls to asses support of the company.

The UAW has already signaled that they intend to play nice with the company and has already come out criticizing them; drawing attention to the fact that Chattanooga workers, who make a starting wage of $14 an hour, don’t enjoy the same union rights as workers at more than 40 unionized Volkswagen facilities  throughout the world.

“Why are Chattanooga workers treated differently?” asked Ashley Murray, a Chattanooga production worker on the night shift. “Why are we in Chattanooga not treated like other VW employees around the world? Why in Chattanooga do we have to make suggestions, not sit down and bargain like every other VW plant?”

The UAW feels confident that it can win the election this time around by focusing the community organizing efforts on the needs of workers in local communities rather than allowing outside workers to paint the union as an outside force.

A win at Volkswagen would be the largest victory in the private sector for Southern union organizing in nearly two decades. A win at Volkswagen in Chattanooga would likely lead to unions to redouble their efforts and pour even more resources into organizing the economically expanding South.

After five years of broken promises by Volkswagen executives, workers in Chattanooga say they are ready for a change.

“This isn’t about politicians. It’s not about outsiders. It’s about Chattanooga workers,” said UAW Local 42 President and Volkswagen worker Steve Cochran. “We deserve the same rights as [unionized GM] Spring Hill workers and every other VW worker in the world”.

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is the founder of Payday Report and also covers labor and immigration for The Guardian. In 2015, he was illegally fired for union organizing as Politico’s senior labor reporter and used his $70,000 NLRB settlement to start Payday. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and has dinner with his folks regularly. He can be reached at Melk@PaydayReport.com A Sidney Award winner and proud graduate of Woodland Hills, Elk lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

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