Tennessee Volkswagen employees vote to join the United Auto Workers union

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Employees at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted overwhelmingly to join the United Auto Workers union Friday in a historic first test of the UAW's renewed effort to organize non-union plants.

The union ended up getting 2,628 votes, or 73% of the votes cast, compared to just 985 who voted “no” in the election held by the National Labor Relations Board.

Volkswagen auto plant employee Duke Brandon, right, celebrates after employees voted to join the UAW on Friday, April 19, 2024, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

The NLRB said both sides have five business days to file objections to the election. If there is nothing, the election will be certified and VW and the union must “begin negotiating in good faith.”

President Joe Biden, who supported the UAW and received its endorsement, said the union's victory follows significant union gains across the country including actors, dockworkers, Teamsters members, writers and health care workers.

“Together, these union victories have helped raise wages and show once again that the middle class built America and that unions continue to build and expand the middle class for all workers,” he said in a statement late Friday.

Twice in recent years, workers at the Chattanooga plant rejected union membership in plantwide votes. Lately, they are He gave the UAW a narrow defeat in 2019 While federal prosecutors were unraveling the union's bribery and embezzlement scandal.

Volkswagen auto plant employee Duke Brandon, right, hugs Vicki Holloway as they watch UAW vote results, late Friday, April 19, 2024, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Volkswagen auto plant employee Duke Brandon, right, hugs Vicki Holloway as they watch UAW vote results, late Friday, April 19, 2024, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

But this time, they voted convincingly for the UAW, which is operating under new leadership directly elected by members for the first time and enjoying a successful showdown with the big automakers in Detroit.

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the Union The feisty new boss, Sean VineHe was elected on a clean-up platform after the scandal and turned more confrontational with the automakers. Fine, backed by Biden, led the union in a series of strikes last fall against Detroit automakers, leading to Profitable new contracts.

The new contracts raised union wages by a third, arming Fine and his organizers with attractive new offers to make to workers at Volkswagen and other companies.

Volkswagen auto plant employee Kiara Hughes celebrates after employees voted to join the UAW on Friday, April 19, 2024, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Volkswagen auto plant employee Kiara Hughes celebrates after employees voted to join the UAW on Friday, April 19, 2024, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Next up for the union vote are workers at Mercedes plants near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who will vote on UAW representation in May.

Finn said he was not surprised by the size of Al-Ittihad's victory on Friday after the previous two losses.

“I think that's the reality of where we are and the times we're living in,” he said Friday night. “Workers are tired of being left behind.”

He said the win would help growing unionization efforts in the rest of the country.

“This gives workers everywhere else a signal that this is OK,” Fine said. “All we've heard for years is we can't win here, you can't do it in the South, you can do this.”

Worker Vicki Holloway of Chattanooga was among dozens of cheering workers who celebrated at an electrical workers union hall near the Volkswagen plant. She said the overwhelming vote in favor of the union this time came because her colleagues realized they could get better benefits and a better voice in the workplace.

“Right now we don't have a say,” said Holloway, who has worked at the plant for 13 years and was there because of the union's previous losses. “It's as if our opinions don't matter.”

In a statement, Volkswagen thanked workers for voting and said 83.5% of the 4,300 production workers cast ballots in the election.

Six Southern governors, including Bill Lee of Tennessee, The workers warned in a joint statement this week that joining the UAW could cost them their jobs and threaten the region's economic progress.

The landslide win serves as a warning to non-union manufacturers, said Marek Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who studies unionization.

“This will send a strong message to all these companies that the UAW is knocking on the door, and if they want to remain non-union, they have to step up their game,” Masters said.

He expects other non-union automakers will become more aggressive at plants, and that anti-union politicians will intensify their efforts to fight the union.

Shortly after the Detroit contracts were ratified, Volkswagen and other nonunion companies gave their workers significant wage increases.

Last fall, Volkswagen raised wages for production workers by 11%, bringing the top base wage to $32.40 an hour, or just over $67,000 a year. Volkswagen said its pay exceeds the median household income in the Chattanooga area, which was $54,480 last May, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But under UAW contracts, top production workers at General Motors, for example, now earn $36 an hour, or about $75,000 a year excluding benefits and profit sharing. By the end of the decade in 2028, GM's top workers will earn more than $89,000.

The VW plant will be the first foreign-owned automaker represented by the UAW in the South. However, it will not be the union's first car assembly plant in the south. The UAW represents workers at two Ford assembly plants in Kentucky and two General Motors plants in Tennessee and Texas, as well as some heavy-duty truck manufacturing plants.

Also, for more than three decades, the UAW has been at the Volkswagen plant in New Stanton, Pennsylvania, east of Pittsburgh. Volkswagen closed the plant that made small cars in the late 1980s.

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Kreischer reported from Detroit. Associated Press journalist Chris Megerian contributed from Washington.

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