As UAW Announces 3rd Union Drive at VW in Chattanooga, Help Us Cover It

UAW members announce their 3rd attempt to unionize in Chattanooga at Volkswagen (UAW)

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Folks, 

Greetings from Joao Pessoa, the most eastern point in the Americas, where I have been on the phone to Chattanooga all day. Earlier today, the UAW announced they had achieved majority support at Volkswagen in Chattanooga. 

As many of you know, I’ve spent ten years covering the fight for a union at Volkswagen in Chattanooga and covered three union elections there. Nothing excites me more than getting back to Chattanooga to cover this fight. Nothing excites me more than getting back to Chattanooga to cover this fight. 

UAW Announces Majority Support in Chattanooga at Volkswagen

Earlier today, the UAW announced they had achieved majority support in Chattanooga at Volkswagen. 

“All workers should have a voice, and the success at VW is showing workers across the country what is possible,” tweeted the UAW earlier today. “ With over half of the plant having signed union cards, Volkswagen workers have a clear majority in support of unionization.” 

It’s unclear when the UAW will push to hold a union election in Chattanooga. Often, unions hold big support margins before petitioning for a union election. During lead-ups to union elections, union busters often can chip away at support through threats & manipulation. 

The UAW has reason to worry. Twice in the last decade, the UAW has lost narrowly twice at Volkswagen after margins of support whittled down. 

“Times have changed and our time is now,” the UAW said in a video announcing the election earlier this winter. “The question isn’t, ‘Why do GM workers in Spring Hill or Ford workers in Louisville get a better life?’ The question is, why don’t we?”

Over the past decade, Payday has covered the last two union elections in Chattanooga, and we need your help to cover it once again (Donate here)

In 2014, the UAW narrowly lost a bitter union election at Volkswagen by a margin of 626-712. (See my on-the-ground long-form “The Battle for Chattanooga; Toxic Masculinity, Ableism, and the Anti-Union Campaign at Volkswagen”). 

After the union lost in 2014, they formed a minority union, UAW Local 42. The local continued to organize shop-floor actions to win changes on the job. 

After a wildcat strike before Christmas in 2018, which successfully defeated an attempt to reduce paid sick days, the union tried to push for a new union election in June 2019.

However, the local could never build enough support to win a majority in a union election, failing in their second union election in 2019 by a margin of 776-833. (See my analysis of the brutal union busting that killed the drive and how the UAW planned to continue to fight on)

At the time, Volkswagen worker Billy Quigg, who is currently involved in attempts to unionize Volkswagen, told me the union would fight for as long as it takes. 

“We are going to talk to them every day. We are going to have to remind them. We are going to have to teach them and educate them. We’ll talk [to] them every day, but you gotta keep pushing,” says Quigg. “We are ingrained in the workforce, and we are ingrained in the community. We don’t have any reasons to go away”.

Since then, Local 42 has maintained a union hall and union membership among a large portion of the membership, allowing the union to maintain support in the plant. 

After the victory of the UAW in the “Stand Up” strike against the Big Three, the UAW says it feels it can win in Chattanooga. Volkswagen has already raised wages by 11% at the plant to fight off unionization attempts. 

“People are standing up like never before,” said Steve Cochran, a UAW Local 42, who has been involved in unionization efforts for the last decade. “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”. 

The announcement came from UAW as part of a broader organizing push to target foreign transplant auto plants in the US South. 

“Since we began our Stand Up Strike, the response from autoworkers at non-union companies has been overwhelming,” Fain said in a new video. “​​Workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially in the South, are reaching out to join our movement and to join the UAW.”   

A union date has yet to be set, and the union will likely wait until they have a solid majority. Payday is looking to cover this story. 

I first went to Chattanooga in 2013 to cover the union election. By the end of the union struggle, I wound up covering for the New York Times how union corruption led to the union’s defeat at Volkswagen. 

Eventually, I moved there for a year in 2016 to found Payday Report and cover unionization in the South. 

During the 2019 election, Payday filed 17 dispatches from Chattanooga. (See our dispatch on the brutal 

Now, with a new union attempt, we hope to once again return to Chattanooga to cover it when a union election is set. 

Donate to help us cover UAW’s 3rd attempt to unionize at Volkswagen in Chattanooga. If you can, sign up as one of our 773 recurring donors.

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing over 1,800 stories from 46 states, Elk was the only American reporter in the room with Lula on the morning of the election & traveled with him to the Oval Office. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]