Volkswagen workers to vote on union representation next month in the 1st test of recruiting drive

Workers at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will vote next month on whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers union

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

DETROIT (AP) — Workers at Volkswagen's factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will vote next month on whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers union.

The National Labor Relations Board said Monday that the election will take place from April 17 to 19 at the plant, in the first test of the union's effort to organize nonunion automobile factories across the nation.

Workers at the 3.8 million square foot (353,353 square meter) factory with more than 4,000 production workers filed paperwork March 18 seeking the election.

Both sides reached agreement to have the election in April, the NLRB said.

The UAW announced its organizing campaign last fall after it won strong contracts with Detroit automakers. The UAW said it would simultaneously target more than a dozen nonunion auto plants including those run by Tesla, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Honda, and others.

The drive covers nearly 150,000 workers at factories largely in the South, where the union thus far has had little success in recruiting new members.

The UAW said a supermajority of the VW plant’s production workers had signed cards supporting union representation, but it would not provide a number. A union can seek an election run by the NLRB once a majority of workers support it.

Volkswagen has said it respects the workers' right "to a democratic process and to determine who should represent their interests. “We will fully support an NLRB vote so every team member has a chance to vote in privacy in this important decision.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recently told reporters that he opposed the factory unionizing, saying that it was important for employees to “keep their future in their own hands.” Lee opposed a similar organizing effort at the same plant in 2019, warning that business recruitment could take a hit.

But Isaac Meadows, one of the VW workers who make Atlas SUVs and the ID.4 electric vehicle, said in a union statement that they want better lives for their families. “We need a say in our schedules, benefits, pay, and more. We’re proud to work at Volkswagen, but we also know the value of a voice at work.” he said.

The union has come close to representing workers at the VW plant in two previous elections. In 2014 and 2019, workers narrowly rejected a factorywide union under the UAW.

The year after the 2014 vote failed, 160 Chattanooga maintenance workers won a vote to form a smaller union, but Volkswagen refused to bargain. Volkswagen had argued the bargaining unit also needed to include production workers. As a result, the 2019 factory-wide vote followed.

In February the union said a majority of workers at a Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama, near Tuscaloosa, also had signed union cards. The Alabama factory complex has about 6,100 employees.

The union embarked on its organizing effort last year after it went on strike against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, earning big raises and other benefits.

After the Detroit Three contracts were approved, many nonunion factories announced worker pay increases.

In November, VW gave workers an 11% pay raise at the plant, but the union says VW’s pay still lags behind Detroit automakers. Top assembly plant workers in Chattanooga make $32.40 per hour, VW said.

The UAW pacts with Detroit automakers include 25% pay raises by the time the contracts end in April of 2028. With cost-of-living increases, workers will see about 33% in raises for a top assembly wage of $42 per hour, plus annual profit sharing.