Volkswagen built at the Chattanooga plant. Photo Larry Miller
Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga choose a union
The first workers at a foreign owned car assembly plant in the southern USA have won collective bargaining rights. It’s the latest stage in the attempt by the mighty UAW, in association with German manufacturing union IG Metall, to spread unionisation from the high density plants of continental Europe to the union-busting states of the southern USA, and it is a major step forward, taken in the teeth of political and management opposition.
The National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) has already rejected one appeal against the decision of skilled hourly workers at the Volkwagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee to vote to be represented by the UAW. Management claim that the bargaining group should be the whole hourly paid workforce, but the UAW has successfully defended the right of the roughly one in ten skilled workers to go first (although their initial aim was indeed to secure bargaining rights for all.)
Previous attempts to win ballots covering the whole workforce – which we reported on extensively in 2014 – failed because of a storm of opposition to unions from local Republican politicians, who went so far as to threaten to withdraw tax breaks for the company, and to claim that the workers should reject the UAW because the union supports gun control.
So the union and the workforce opted for a slower, step by step approach, which has begun to bear fruit. Seventy percent of the skilled workers voted to have the UAW represent them. The union wants to demonstrate to other workers that if collective bargaining works for one group, it will work for everyone. They want the company to back down and drop its appeals, and German unions will be pressing VW global management to insist their local managers follow suit.
Ray Curry, director of UAW Region 8, commended the workers after the vote:
Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga have had a long journey in the face of intense political opposition, and they have made steady progress. We’re proud of their courage and persistence. We urge Volkswagen to respect the decision of its employees and recognize the local union as the representative of the skilled trades unit.