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An employee at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant signs on the dotted line allowing the UAW to represent her. (Photo credit: UAW)

The United Auto Workers moved another step closer to its goal of organizing workers at the Volkswagen of America assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The UAW said in a new filing with the U.S. Department of Labor that 816 employees have now voluntarily joined the union. The 816 represent about 55% of the plant’s blue-collar. The filing, coupled with the upheaval on the VW’s board of supervisors, increases the chances the automaker will raise its level of recognition of the UAW contingent at the plant.

Berthold Huber, the new chairman of VW Supervisory Board, is a lifelong trade union activist who actively supported the UAW during its recognition election last year. The election ended in a narrow defeat for the UAW, which since then has continued its organizing drive with the assistance of Huber and other German union leaders.

Huber, who supported VW Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn during a bitter showdown earlier with former supervisory board chairman of Ferdinand Piech. It is assumed that part of the price Winterkorn agreed to pay for the Huber’s support was the complete recognition of the UAW in Chattanooga.

VWOA had already quietly replaced anti-union plant managers at the VW factory in Chattanooga, which is set to expand to build the utility vehicle. The UAW would prefer to lock down a new labor pact with VWOA before the company starts hiring workers to build the new vehicle due on the market in 2017.

The state of Tennessee’s conservative political establishment fought to prevent the UAW from gaining a foothold in Tennessee. From the governor, Republican Bill Haslam, on down, Tennessee officials thought VW had agreed that the Chattanooga plant would remain non-union like other factories in the South built by Asian and European manufacturers.

(UAW adds 12,000 members in 2014. For more, Click Here.)

But the governor and other political figures failed to appreciate the depth of union influence inside VW’s complicated and sprawling management structure.

(Click Here for details the UAW’s readying its contract demands in Detroit.)

The UAW last year narrowly lost a union vote at the Chattanooga plant that featured heavy campaigning by anti-union Republicans like U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. Huber wrote workers at the plant before the vote urging them to support the UAW.

(To see more about Ford cutting a shift and 700 jobs in Michigan, Click Here.)

The decision to build the new SUV followed months of political tension stemming from Volkswagen’s labor-friendly corporate culture coming into the political crosshairs of Republicans who fear a UAW foothold among foreign automakers would make the region less competitive to future investment.

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