UAW Wins Historic Volkswagen Union Election in a Landslide

UAW members celebrate their victory at Volkswagen on Friday night (UAW)

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE – The NLRB announced tonight that UAW won a historic union election at Volkswagen in Chattanooga Tennessee. The union won with 73% as workers voting in favor of the union.

It was the third time in ten years that the UAW tried to unionize, losing narrowly in two previous efforts. Now, with a victory in Chattanooga, it opens the door to more unionizing across the South. 

“About time. Mercedes is next,” texted Mercedes Alabama worker Kirk Garner, where the UAW is slated to hold a union election from May 13th to May 17th. 

For more than a decade, the UAW tried and failed to win elections. However, the UAW maintained a minority union, UAW Local 42, that kept advocating on behalf of the union for a decade. 

In the last few years, things changed dramatically at the plant in 2022 when Volkswagen added a brand new assembly line for the production of the Volkswagen ID.4. 

“We are growing, and a lot more people can smell the BS now when they say that,” says Volkswagen worker Zach Costello. 

With labor shortages throughout the manufacturing sector, many of the workers hired by Volkswagen were much younger and more diverse. Some had even moved from more pro-union parts of the country to work there.

While in the past, Volkswagen workers, who had less experience with unions, were skeptical of the bureaucracies of the scandal-tainted UAW, younger Southern workers seemed more receptive to trying something new.

“A lot of the people who’ve been staunchly anti-union are from an older generation,” says 32-year-old Caleb Michalski, a safety lead, who was previously anti-union, but became pro-union. “A lot of the younger generation, through a combination of social media and education and stuff like that, they realize, like, hey, it doesn’t make sense.”

(Read my story “After Ten-Year Battle, a Younger Generation Leads the Way at Volkswagen”)

Many of the workers like him  say that they were encouraged to vote for the UAW after seeing how the union had reformed itself and changed, winning the “Stand Up” strike. 

“Seeing the current president clean up house, address corruption issues, and stand up for the workers. That was what instantly piqued my curiosity,” said Michalski. 

Workers at the plant say that they were inspired watching the waves of strikes that happened following the pandemic. 

“Seeing the writers go on strike and standing up for the rights that was, I was so excited about that,” says Michalski. “In the back of our minds was like, “Man, I wonder if auto workers, if we’re going to start seeing something like that here.’ And then once the UAW went on strike, and a lot of us are feeling a lot more hopeful, something positive is happening here as well.” 

Now, Michalski hopes that the pro-union sentiment in his plant spreads to plants across the country. 

“I am hopeful that things can finally take root in the South, that we can finally start seeing an empowered working people throughout this country, but particularly here in the South. Because I feel it’s a long time coming,” says Michalski. 

Donate to Help Us Cover the Fight to Unionize the South 

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]