Breaking: UAW To Form New Union At Volkswagen's Tennessee Plant

After a months-long battle in which unionization at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tenn. plant seemed all but dead, the United Auto Workers union is apparently announcing the creation of a local union chapter there — and VW is expected to commit to working with them, according to a news report.

It's a hugely surprising development that's followed a long and bitter fight between the UAW, an organization struggling to maintain its numbers and its relevancy, and Tennessee's vehemently anti-union Republican leadership.

The Tennessean broke the news this morning, with the UAW's secretary-treasurer confirming the formation of a new Local 42. News Channel 5 reports that under the terms of the agreement, Volkswagen has committed to working with them in a German "works council"-style capacity.

From their story:

Participation will be voluntary, and there will be no formal recognition of the union by the German automaker until a majority of its workers have joined, UAW officials have confirmed.

"We will be announcing a local, and we would fully expect that Volkswagen would deal with this local union if it represents a substantial portion of its employees," UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel of Ashland City said this morning. "It's dependent on the employees and what they want to do."

[...] The union got involved in discussions with Volkswagen's German management more than a year ago to try to work out a plan to create an employee "works council" at the Chattanooga plant like the councils VW has in almost all of its other plants worldwide. Works councils meet with managers to solve work issues other than pay and benefits at the other plants.

Whether the UAW will be able to set up a works council and get formal recognition by Volkswagen in Chattanooga will depend on whether it can get a majority of the workers to join the union, Casteel indicated.

The official announcement is expected to be made this afternoon.

It's important to note the UAW hasn't unionized the entire plant. But this agreement marks the first time the UAW has gained recognition at an auto plant in the American South, now a hotbed of car manufacturing for foreign-based and American brands.

Many of those plants have been historically resistant to unionization, but they're key to the UAW's survival as their own membership numbers continue to dwindle.

The Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, where the U.S. market Passat is built, has been the front line in this fight since the beginning of the year. VW's workers voted to reject unionization, but the UAW appealed the results of that vote to the National Labor Relations Board only to later drop it.

The unionization attempt was met with serious pushback from Republican lawmakers. Gov. Bill Haslam offered the plant $300 million in incentives for the matter to be "concluded" to his administration's satisfaction, and Sen. Bob Corker swore that Volkswagen would settle on the plant to build their new full-size SUV if the UAW was defeated.

More than likely, the Chattanooga plant will be awarded production of that vehicle over Volkswagen's Mexican operations, according to the latest reports. The SUV is critical to the company's sagging U.S. sales numbers.