The United Auto Workers narrowly lost its bid to organize blue-collar workers at the Volkswagen AG assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The vote, 833 against the union to 776 for the UAW, was closer than the 2014 effort but still fell short. Some 51.8% of workers voted against the union, while 48.2% supported the UAW. In the 2014 election, the margin was 53.2% against the union and 46.8% for the UAW. The UAW did win an election among maintenance workers in 2016.
The union organizing effort was attacked by Tennessee’s Republican political establishment, which is opposed to the union gaining influence in the state and hampered by corruption charges flowing from ongoing federal corruption investigation. A former UAW vice president is facing sentencing soon after pleading guilty to criminal charges from the investigation.
Anti-union organizations also spent heavily on advertising aimed at defeating the union.
(VW workers voting on UAW representation in Chattanooga plant. Click Here for the story.)
In a statement, Frank Fischer, president and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, who developed close ties to the Tennessee’s GOP establishment during a previous assignment at plan, said the employees have spoken. Fischer was returned to the plant last month after the organizing campaign began.
“Pending certification of the results by the National Labor Relations Board and a legal review of the election, Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority,” said Fischer. “We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with elected officials and business leaders in Tennessee.”
The UAW called on Congress to take a comprehensive look at the country’s labor laws and NLRB rules that made it almost impossible for Volkswagen workers to form a union.
“VW workers endured a system where even when they voted, the company refused to bargain,” said Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the UAW. “Clearly Volkswagen was able to delay bargaining with maintenance and ultimately this vote among all production and maintenance workers through legal games until they could undermine the vote.”
(Click Here for details about the VW workers in Tennessee voting for UAW representation.)
“Our labor laws are broken,” said Rothenberg. “Workers should not have to endure threats and intimidation in order to obtain the right to collectively bargain. The law doesn’t serve workers, it caters to clever lawyers who are able to manipulate the NLRB process.”
Tracy Romero, UAW organizing director, said Volkswagen of America used fear to win the election.
“The company ran a brutal campaign of fear and misinformation,” said Romero. Fear of the loss of the plant; fear of their participation in the union effort; fear through misinformation about the UAW; fear about current benefits in contract negotiations. During a period of nine weeks – an unprecedented length of time due to legal gamesmanship – Volkswagen was able to break the will of enough workers to destroy their majority.”
Romero indicated that the UAW intends to ask for the help of VW labor leaders in Europe to help protect Chattanooga workers from any retaliation. “Chattanooga workers deserve the right to vote and deserve the right to be treated fairly and we will hold Wolfsburg to that.”
While political interference and right-wing group expenditures did contribute to the loss, Rothenberg said the current state of American labor laws particularly made the Volkswagen effort difficult.
(To see more about Volkswagen building electric vehicles at Chattanooga plant, Click Here.)
“Here you have maintenance workers who voted for a contract and Volkswagen just refused to follow the law and bargain. They insisted that maintenance and production vote together. So, three years later maintenance and production ask to vote, and VW stands in their way,” said Rothenberg. “This is a system designed to benefit corporate lawyers not protect worker rights.”