The UAW is poised to make history if Volkswagen workers choose to unionize this week

The UAW is about to make history this week as about 4,300 auto workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee vote on whether they want union representation.

Polls opened their doors at 4:45 am on Wednesday. The secret vote, which takes place inside the plant and is administered by the National Labor Relations Board, continues until 8 p.m. Friday, and results are expected later that night, according to the NLRB and a Volkswagen spokesman.

If the UAW wins at Volkswagen Chattanooga, it will be a hard-won, historic victory, labor experts say, after repeated failures over the past decade to regulate foreign auto plants in the South. For one thing, it would add thousands of members to the UAW. UAW membership is well below its 1979 peak of 1.5 million. The number of current members of the Union is about 400,000 active members and 580,000 retired members.

“This is a defining moment for the UAW,” said Harley Chaiken, a labor expert and professor emeritus at UCLA. “The victory really sets a precedent and breaks the glass ceiling that prevents you from organizing auto plants in the South.” Berkeley. “A victory doesn't automatically translate into a victory over other non-union automakers, but it sets the standard and the momentum. So a victory is a big win.”

GOP governors in the South resist the UAW

If the vote fails, Chaiken said it would be disappointing, but the UAW still has a chance with other non-union plants. Last week, Mercedes-Benz workers in Alabama petitioned the NLRB to allow them to vote on joining the UAW.

Just hours before voting began, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and five other Republican governors in Southern states with non-union automakers drafted and signed a document Long post on Tuesday Saying they are “deeply concerned” about the UAW's unionization campaign, which they said is “driven by misinformation and intimidation tactics.”

“Businesses have choices when it comes to where to invest and bring jobs and opportunities,” the Conservatives' letter said. “We have worked tirelessly on behalf of our constituents to bring good-paying jobs to our states. These jobs have become part of the fabric of the auto industry. Unionization would certainly put our states’ jobs at risk — in fact, in this year ago, all Auto industry UAW announces layoffs.

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Big wins, temporary layoffs

The letter goes on to insinuate that electing union representation would mean job cuts.

“We have seen it happen this way every time a foreign automaker unionized, and none of those plants remained in operation,” the letter said. “We are seeing this in the fallout from the Detroit Three strikes as automakers rethink investments and job cuts.”

The UAW did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

But in terms of rethinking investments, not necessarily. Just days after union members ratified the GM contract, the automaker began a $10 billion stock buyback program to cover additional labor costs, the Free Press reported. Layoffs are subtle. GM said in December that it would lay off 1,314 employees at two plants in Michigan due to the end of production of two vehicles. GM is retooling one of its plants, Orion Assembly, to build new electric pickup trucks in late 2025. As the Free Press reported, GM said it will offer affected employees jobs elsewhere in the company.

At Ford Motor Co., a supplier issue earlier this year forced it to pause production of the new 2024 Ford F-150 for more than five days at plants that make the truck, temporarily laying off about 5,200 UAW workers.

At Stellantis, the company has reduced its workforce in recent months, but the overall picture is ambiguous because it has not made clear how many jobs will be cut. The company noted that the round of cuts announced in December for plants in Detroit and Toledo were much smaller than originally described, but a separate round of cuts affecting additional workers across the company's facilities was launched last month.

None of these temporary layoffs has overshadowed the driving force behind VW workers signing cards on the UAW's website seeking to join the union: The UAW's big contract win against the Detroit Three last fall after a 46-day strike.

The union won for members to adjust the cost of living, eliminating pay levels and benefits for retirees. Immediately after the UAW won 25% wage gains across 4 1/2-year contracts with Detroit automakers, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and Volkswagen offered raises ranging from 9% to 14% to their U.S. workforce.

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Therefore, Chaiken said the conservatives' message was unlikely to influence the vote much, noting that “the conservatives wrote an ideological statement, not what is happening in the world of work today.”

This is the average wage at Volkswagen

Volkswagen Chattanooga's workforce was one of the first non-union automakers in the country to launch its public campaign to unionize, with 30% of workers at the plant signing cards in December. The UAW declined to say how many employees at the Volkswagen plant have signed union cards, but has previously said it wants 70% of the workforce to sign the cards before an organizing committee made up of plant workers petitions to take over the plant. vote.

VW began construction on the Chattanooga plant in 2009 and has invested $4.3 billion in it over the years, a Volkswagen spokesman said. The plant assembles the ID.4 EV and houses the company's battery engineering laboratory. It also builds the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport.

He added that its production supports about 125,000 direct and indirect job opportunities throughout the country. The automaker supports employees' right to decide the issue of representation and secret ballot elections for the NLRB, the spokesman said, adding that VW believes employees already have a strong voice at the Chattanooga plant.

“Part of investing in people and their well-being is listening. Everyone has direct access to their manager and our factory leadership is located right off the factory floor,” the spokesman said, adding that the CEO's office is located close to the factory floor and “anyone can come and express a concern.” Or expresses his comments.

The average employee in Chattanooga will gross $60,000 this year, a Volkswagen spokesman told the media. According to the United States Census BureauChattanooga's median household income in 2022 was $57,703. If an employee meets attendance requirements and takes overtime, he said, he will earn a lot of $70,000. Volkswagen contributes up to 9% to employees' 401(k) plans, according to its fact sheet in www.vw.com/chattanooga.

Favorable odds for the UAW

The UAW has a history of trying to organize and failing in the South, especially at that plant, which is Volkswagen's only plant in the United States. In 2014, the union was confident it would win the vote at the Volkswagen plant because it had a majority that signed tickets in favor of the union.

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But on the first day of three days of voting, Tennessee's Republican leadership campaigned for a no vote. The GOP campaign was successful, in part because the former Chattanooga mayor hinted that VW would not allocate future products to the plant if it joined the union. In 2019, the UAW again narrowly lost the vote at the plant.

Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said UAW conditions have improved dramatically since the 2019 vote. He said conservative rhetoric is unlikely to sway the results this time because in an election year, what matters most is that At least workers get a chance to vote.

“The odds are more in their favor this time as they only need a 2% increase on their last vote,” Wheaton told the Free Press. “About 75% to 80% of the general public supported the UAW in Detroit Three Strikes. Losing the election would certainly be painful, but it would not be fatal.”

Last month, UAW President Shawn Fain told the Free Press that he expects to organize at least one new auto plant in the country this year, and perhaps more. All it takes is one plant to put up for the vote and win to provide the momentum to win more, Fine said.

If Fine fails, “it won't end their campaign to organize Southern factories,” said Eric Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. “They may rethink their approach, but they won't rethink their goal.” To control the country's automobile and truck industry.

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Contact Jimmy L. LaRue: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more about General Motors and register on our website Auto Newsletter. Become a subscriber.

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