Volkswagen Workers In Tennessee Reject UAW Yet Again

For the second time in five years, workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn. plant rejected a bid to join the United Auto Workers, delivering yet another blow to the union’s efforts at organizing foreign car plants in America.

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The Tennessean reports VW employees voted 833 to 776 to reject unionization. About 1,700 full-time workers were eligible to vote. The plant currently produces the Passat and Atlas.

Typically workers at non-union auto plants in the U.S. are paid less than their unionized counterparts, yet the UAW has repeatedly failed to unionize factories in the South owned by Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and others. In 2014, workers at the same VW plant also rejected a unionization bid.

This latest unionization fight at VW, like the last one, had become incredibly political and full of interference from business-backed anti-union groups. The state’s Republican leaders argued strongly against the UAW and stressed to workers that unionizing could threaten jobs and the plant’s future, and further investment in Tennessee in general. Republican governor Bill Lee even visited the plant and spoke to workers about his objections, and U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn also spoke out against unionizing as well.

From the New York Times:

Wilma Liebman, a chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board under President Barack Obama, said she had never heard of a governor’s appearing directly before workers to lobby them to vote against union representation. Mr. Lee’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

State Representative Robin Smith, a Republican whose district includes the plant, had said a decision to unionize could threaten tens of millions of dollars in future state incentives for the company.

“It’s much easier to defend incentives, the use of tax dollars, when they’re going into an investment that follows our state’s philosophy,” Ms. Smith said in an interview.

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At the same time, there’s no getting around the fact that the UAW has become incredibly bad at making a case for itself in recent years as it’s been rocked with high-profile corruption scandals that have spent former leaders to jail. And that is something that definitely seemed to weigh on at least some workers who took part in the vote. (And as the site Labor Notes reports, the UAW made plenty of other organizing missteps as well.)

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Via Automotive News:

Keri Menendez, 44, who opposed the UAW, told Reuters that her problem was not with organized labor but with the UAW, which has struggled with a wide-ranging federal corruption probe over the last two years in Detroit. “Corruption has been a problem for the UAW,” said Menendez, a team leader on the line making $23.50 an hour. “They’re more interested in their own business than caring for people.”

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The results must still be certified by the National Labor Relations Board, according to Volkswagen. But for now, it’s another unfortunate setback for labor in the U.S., although I have to wonder if any of the UAW leaders caught embezzling in recent years actually give a shit about workers or not.

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Patrick George

Editor-in-Chief at Jalopnik. 2002 Toyota 4Runner.