Volkswagen workers in Tennessee vote to join UAW

Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted Friday to join the United Auto Workers union, becoming the first auto plant in the South to approve a union with an election since the 1940s.

Nearly three-quarters of 3,613 workers voted yes in the three-day election, the National Labor Relations Board said Friday evening, confirming earlier reports from the union and Volkswagen. The ballot required a simple majority to pass.

The vote marks a victory for the UAW and for unions, which have faced years of difficulty organizing factories in Southern states. The UAW failed to unionize the VW plant twice, in 2014 and 2019. The plant will join a handful of other unionized auto plants in the South, where local laws and customs have made penetration difficult unions.

Victory has come after a concerted campaign by local VW workers, assisted by UAW staff, who rallied workers to their cause by promising that the union would help them fight for better health care, retirement benefits and more paid leave.

The union campaign is also producing results a political victory for President Biden, who won the support of the UAW earlier this year and supported union expansion efforts.

“Congratulations to Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on their historic vote for union representation at the United Auto Workers,” Biden said in a statement released Friday evening. “I was proud to stand with autoworkers in their successful fight for record contracts, and I am proud to now stand with autoworkers as they succeed in unionizing at Volkswagen. »

The South has few unionized auto plants. Workers say this one could be next.

In a brief statement, VW thanked its workers for voting in the “democratic” elections. All of the company’s other factories around the world are already represented by a union or similar body that defends the interests of workers.

Volkswagen workers celebrated their landslide victory at a union hall in Chattanooga.

“This election is important,” VW employee Kelcey Smith said in a UAW statement. “People in high places told us good things couldn’t happen here in Chattanooga. They told us that it was not the time to get up, that this was not the place. But we got back up and we won. It’s time; It is the place. Southern workers are ready to stand up and achieve a better life. »

The vote adds momentum to the UAW’s ambitious campaign to organize the factories of a dozen Southern automakers. Like VW, its other targets are mostly foreign-based companies, including Honda, Toyota and Hyundai. Tesla factories in Texas, Nevada and California are also targets.

Mercedes-Benz manufacturing plants in Vance and Woodstock, Alabama, will hold union elections in mid-May. The UAW says a majority of workers at these facilities have signed cards supporting the union.

Republican politicians in Tennessee had sought to thwart an affirmative vote by warning workers in public statements that unionization would threaten the region’s jobs and economic prosperity. Governors from six Southern states banded together this week to issue a similar joint statement.

The UAW has long represented workers at Detroit’s Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — at plants primarily in the Midwest. But the union’s membership has fallen precipitously in recent decades, leaving the UAW scrambling to find new sources of growth.

The UAW’s strikes against Detroit’s Big Three last fall, led by the union’s ambitious new president, Shawn Fain, helped secure record raises and other benefits for workers – victories that they hope to exploit to gain new members in the South.

Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions, called the victory “a historic milestone for workers across the state and the South.”

Local “right to work” laws in the Southern states, as well as political and cultural traditions, made it difficult for unions to expand. But some experts say worker attitudes are changing as young people enter the workforce.

The victory in Tennessee fuels the growing momentum of the labor movement across the United States. Petitions for union elections increased 35% in fiscal year 2024 compared to the previous year, the NLRB reported earlier this month. And American support for unions has climbed to 67 percent, after reaching a record high during the Great Recession, according to a Gallup poll. Last year, workers staged a series of high-profile strikes, not only in the auto industry, but also in the healthcare, hospitality and entertainment sectors.

The victory opens new doors to increasing the number of union members in the United States, which has been in near-steady decline since the 1980s. Last year, just 10 percent of American workers were union members, a record low, in partly due to the explosive growth of the labor market. Meanwhile, a wave of high-profile victories at previously non-union companies, such as Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and REI, have yet to secure the first union contracts for workers.

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Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe. Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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