UAW Announces Volkswagen Workers Filing for Unionization Vote in Tennessee

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga, TN, have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a vote to join the UAW. Clearly pleased, the union shared this world with the news on Monday to be accompanied by the requisite media agitprop.

This will be the first time a non-union automotive plant has filed for a union election in quite some time. The UAW called it a “grassroots effort” following the UAW’s previous contract negotiations with Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis.

VW’s facility in Chattanooga is the company’s only assembly facility inside the United States and presently employs roughly 4,300 people. Unlike the automaker’s European factories, it has always lacked union representation. The UAW claimed that a super-majority of eligible workers at the Volkswagen plant had signed union cards over the last three months.

“Today, we are one step closer to making a good job at Volkswagen into a great career,” Isaac Meadows, a production team member in assembly, was quoted by the union as saying. “Right now, we miss time with our families because so much of our paid-time-off is burned up during the summer and winter shutdowns. We shouldn’t have to choose between our family and our job. By winning our union and a real voice at Volkswagen, we can negotiate for more time with our families.”

The UAW is a difficult entity to summarize at present. While the union has historically given workers more bargaining power with businesses that often place maximizing profit ahead of fair compensation, the UAW has likewise been embroiled in numerous corruption scandals showing that past leadership took bribes in exchange for negotiating worse deals for members. However, the current leadership has vowed to do away with the past to create something wholly committed to American laborers.

The union has had mixed success on that front. The UAW moving away from staid bargaining tactics was a major component in negotiating one of the best contracts the union has seen in years. But it has also remained aligned with the Democratic Party, despite leadership repeatedly signaling that it was moving away from political allegiances in 2023.

Fain even took a bow during the last State of the Union Address as Joe Biden claimed that “ together we succeeded” in returning manufacturing to the United States. Biden attributed the success to the United States focusing on electrified vehicles, a major part of his political platform. However, the UAW had been pretty mixed on the prospect of EVs after European labor groups realized that electrification likely wouldn’t need as many domestic workers once the transition was complete.

Germany’s IG Metall has been extremely skeptical of global electrification efforts and the same appears to be true of the American workforce. UAW leadership has been more mixed, however, with Fain suggesting in September of 2023 that the transition to electric vehicles needs to be fair “where it has our labor standards in there, not paying poverty wages and not a race to the bottom, and it's currently driving a race to the bottom.”

Donald Trump has been similarly critical of electrification, suggesting it was taking place too quickly and would likely result in fewer jobs while flooding the market with expensive vehicles nobody wanted to buy. However, Biden was arguably more vocal in terms of publicly signaling his desire to see lofty wage increases among the manufacturing sector. Whatever the reasons, Fain has been far more critical of Trump than Biden and appears to have thrown his hat in with the latter.

The reason the above matters is because the UAW (and unions in general) represent an extremely important voting block. Despite overwhelming evidence that today’s union members aren’t married to either political party, leadership has remained aligned with Democrats and will assuredly encourage their members to vote accordingly.

Keeping the above in mind, one wonders what is in store for Volkswagen’s operations in Tennessee. While the UAW has been broadly unsuccessful in organizing assembly plants operated by foreign automakers, it’s working overtime to try and break that losing streak. However, a majority of these targeted facilities exist in states with Republican leadership that sees welcoming the UAW as a political liability. Ironically, the regions that have brought in the most automotive jobs in the last few decades have likewise been places that are the most anti-union.

The plant in Chattanooga presently builds the Volkswagen Atlas and ID.4 electric crossover. It confirmed that it would “fully support [a National Labor Relations Board] vote so every team member has a chance to vote in privacy in this important decision. The election timeline will be determined by the NLRB."

Previous attempts have failed at the plant. But we’ll see what happens this time around. The NLRB plans on holding a pre-election hearing on March 26th unless the involved groups have settled things among themselves before then. But no outcome will change the UAW’s overarching strategy. In November, the union announced over a dozen campaigns to convert non-union automakers, including Tesla, Rivian, Hyundai, Toyota, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

[Image: UAW]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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3 of 47 comments
  • The Oracle The Oracle on Mar 19, 2024

    VW welcomes the union.

  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Mar 19, 2024

    Let's see what happens - the last time this took place, workers signed union cards to get the organizers to stop pestering them, then when it came to a secret vote, they voted 52-48 percent against organizing, with 1,600 workers voting.

  • 2ACL Too much, but at least it can get out of its own way. One adjustment I don't think I'll ever make to the modern automobile is sub-160 hp beyond $25k.
  • MaintenanceCosts The black wheel arches and rocker trim are ghastly. Looks like to get them in body color you have to downgrade to the N Line. And you can't get a 360-degree camera on the N Line. Oh well, I'm not a compact CUV customer anyway.
  • Gray Where is Subaru on the list? They build them in Indiana. NASCAR should field the Legacy sedan to go up against Toyota.
  • Redapple2 H-K Styling. May not be my cup of tea but they re trying. Gripe. This would be a deal breaker. Door cut out - seat postion - 'B' pillar. I m over 6'. So the driver's seat is towards full back position. Rental Equinox last week. 1100 miles. The seat bottom to seat back point was 8 inches behind and around the 'B' pillar. I had to be contortionist to get in and out of the car. Brutal POS. Wife's Forester? Nearly equal/flush. I ve never seen 1 car review where they complain about this.
  • Lou_BC In my town the dealers are bad for marking up products, even pickups. There were multiple "mega-projects" on the go in my region so money was flowing fast and loose both by corporations and employees. All of that is coming to an end plus we've seen a pulpmill close, one pulpmill line close and a few sawmill closures. Cash is getting tight.