A Volkswagen automobile assembly plant is seen in Chattanooga, Tennessee on March 20, 2024.

Eliza Novelz getty images

Detroit – volkswagen Workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will vote this week on whether to organize with the United Auto Workers in a key test of the union’s dominance.

A win would give the UAW its first major automaker victory outside General Motors, ford motorand chrysler parent Stellantis, It will also provide a launching point for the union unprecedented organizing campaign 13 automakers in the US by 2023 after major contract wins with Detroit companies.

A defeat would mark the Detroit-based union’s latest organizing failure after decades of unsuccessful campaigns outside the Big Three, including at a Tennessee VW plant in 2014 and 2019. It would also be a major blow to the UAW and President Sean Fein, who was elected in 2023 as the following reform candidate. years old federal corruption scandal Inclusion of former Sangh leaders.

More than 4,000 VW employees are eligible to vote, which begins Wednesday and ends at 8 p.m. EDT on Friday. organizing vote, which is being supervised National Labor Relations BoardA simple majority would be required to succeed.

Fenn and others see this week’s vote as the union’s best shot at organizing the VW plant after record contracts and strikes at Detroit automakers, which launched Fenn to international prominence as the face of the union last year. .

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain during an online broadcast to update union members on negotiations with Detroit automakers on October 6, 2023.


The UAW’s record contracts with three major Detroit automakers are the biggest difference between the current union drive and Volkswagen’s previous efforts, said Stephen Silvia, Author “The UAW’s Southern Gamble: Organizing Workers in Foreign-Owned Automobile Plants.”

He said, “This is by far the best campaign the UAW has had in Chattanooga.”

Sylvia, a professor at American University in Washington, DC, said that political conditions, the company’s messaging and Fain’s leadership have created a more favorable environment for the union than in previous organizing campaigns.

Volkswagen, which has union workers at non-U.S. plants, has said it will let its workers decide whether to organize. The company said it has worked to clarify information it believes is simply misleading or inaccurate regarding issues such as wages and benefits, but it has not publicly opposed union organizing. Also launched a campaign called “Vote for the workplace you want” Encouraging all employees to do so.

“We respect our employees’ right to the democratic process and their right to determine who should represent their interests,” VW said in a statement. “We fully support the NLRB vote, so every team member has the opportunity to cast a secret ballot on this important decision. Volkswagen is proud of our work environment in Chattanooga that offers the best paying jobs in the region.”

Aerial view of the Chattanooga Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 10, 2024.

Kevin Worm | Washington Post | getty images

In addition to less political pressure in a right-to-work state, there are also less organized efforts against the union than in prior campaigns. In recent weeks a group called “VW Chat Workers for VW Chat Workers” began protesting UAW organizing, including a “Still No UAW” website,

A member of the group, who asked not to be identified because of the consequences if UAW organizing is successful, said he fears the union could cause problems at the plant, including the possibility of layoffs. , because workers get more benefits during negotiations.

The assembly worker, who has more than 10 years at the plant, said it’s not guaranteed the German automaker will agree to the same wages and benefits as GM, Ford and Stellantis.

“The Big Three, they got a good contract… but we’re not the Big Three,” the veteran employee said. “They’re big companies [in the U.S.] And when contracts come along with negotiations, it won’t be the same.”

He said this UAW organizing campaign seems different from the previous two because there is less outside political pressure, the union has new leadership and organizing strategy and more new workers are supporting the union at the plant.

According to the UAW, VW workers applied for election in March, when the majority of them signed union cards. The VW workers reached a majority in early February – two months after they began their public campaign to join the UAW.

Unlike prior organizing efforts, the union is using a grassroots, or bottom-up, campaign led by workers at the plant rather than international union leaders. The strategy has helped with messaging, Sylvia said.

In 2019, VW workers at the Chattanooga plant rejected union representation by a vote of 833–776.

“Right now, we just need a voice in the plant. Right now, we’re subject to the whims of the company,” said Isaac Meadows, an assembly worker who has been working at the VW plant for 14 months. “There are a lot of issues that we want to have a say on and by coming together and forming our union it puts us in a position to negotiate on all of those things.”

Meadows said he makes $27 an hour and his top priorities are pay, benefits and overtime time off.

According to the company, VW production workers at the plant earn between $23.40 an hour and $32.40 an hour, with increases to the top salary in four years.

UAW signs and water bottles are shown inside the IBEW building in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 10, 2024.

Kevin Worm | Washington Post | getty images

UAW-negotiated wages this year range between about $25 an hour for Detroit carmakers and $36 an hour for production workers, including estimated cost of living adjustments. By the end of UAW contracts in 2028, top wages for production workers are expected to exceed $42 an hour.

“The guy who’s making the Ford Explorer costs Ford about twice as much as we cost Volkswagen,” said Meadows. He said “everyone was keeping an eye” on the outcome of the UAW’s negotiations with Detroit automakers.

The UAW has used the new wages and other benefits as a rallying call for unorganized auto workers to join the union.

vw is One of 13 non-union automakers The UAW set its sights on the US late last year after winning record contracts with Detroit automakers. The campaign involves approximately 150,000 autoworkers from BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Lucid, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, etc. Riviansubaru, TeslaToyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

Factory workers at a Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Alabama earlier this month NLRB paperwork filed For formal election to join the UAW.

“The first thing you need to do to win is believe you can win,” Fenn told Mercedes-Benz employees last month. “That this job can be better. That your life can be better. And those things are worth fighting for. That’s why we stand. That’s why you’re here today. Because deep down, you believe that this possible.”

Fenn previously vowed to move beyond the Big Three and expand “Big Five or Big Six” Until its four-and-a-half-year contract with Detroit automakers expired.

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