UAW Files for Union Election at VW in Chattanooga with 70% Signing Union Cards

Earlier today, the UAW announced they had filed for a historic union election at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The union announced that more than 70% of the plant had signed union cards, giving them a margin of support large enough that they felt confident enough to proceed with a union election.

Workers there say they are fed up with low pay, lack of paid time off, and unsafe working conditions.

“Volkswagen has spent billions of dollars expanding in Chattanooga, but right now safety is a major issue in our plant,” said Victor Vaughn, a logistics team member at VW. “Just the other day, I was almost hit by four 500-plus pound crates while I was driving to deliver parts. That incident should’ve been followed up within the hour, but even after I clocked out no one asked me about it”.

The UAW has tried twice in the last decade to unionize at Volkswagen in Chattanooga and lost narrowly both in 2014 and 2019. Now, after the success of the “Stand Up Strike” against the Big Three automakers, the union feels that it has a new sense of momentum.

“People are standing up like never before,” says Chattanooga Volkswagen worker Steve Cochran, 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”. 

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

Workers increasingly say that the UAW has a positive image in the plant.

 “We are a positive force in the plant,” said Yolanda Peoples, a production team member at Volkswagen. “When we win our union, we’ll be able to bargain for a safer workplace so that people can stay on the job and the company can benefit from our experience.”

A win at the plant in Chattanooga would be historic and likely open the door for more organizing across the United States, as the UAW has committed to spending $40 million over the next two years to organize non-union plants.

The UAW recently announced that they had achieved majority sign-up at a Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama, and expects to schedule a union election soon.

The UAW has also publicly announced that union organizing campaigns are underway at Hyundai in Montgomery, Alabama, and Toyota in Troy, Missouri. 

“Seeing the new contracts with the Big Three, that’s when I realized we needed a union,” said Toyota worker Charles Lashley. “It was incredible that UAW members could bargain for those benefits and that pay. I don’t see why we should be paid differently. Toyota makes more money than all the Big Three.”

The National Labor Relations Board has yet to set a date for the union election at the plant, but a union election should be expected sometime this spring. A win would likely give momentum and confidence to workers organizing elsewhere, particularly at Mercedes, Toyota, and Hyundai.

“The Big Three’s “Stand Up Strike” generated a lot of interest,” says Mercedes Alabama worker Kirk Garner. “So I think this is a great opportunity. While it’s still in everybody’s forefront, we’d go ahead and get this done now.”

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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 nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. 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]