Volkswagen has decided to officially express its support and let employees vote on whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers, as its plant in Tennessee could become the first foreign-owned car factory in the US with a union representation.
This could become the final act in UAW’s struggle to add members from facilities opened in states with less union activity, as foreign auto companies have traditionally favored such US states. The VW plant has become a symbol for the struggle between the UAW to adopt membership from such foreign car plants and politically sensitive officials such as Republican Senator Bob Corker – which even warned of job losses if unions take hold.
Next week the speculations will be over as the workers at the Chattanooga assembly plant take a vote on whether they want to join the UAW. The elections, slotted for February 12-14 will be supervised by the US National Labor Relations Board, after a majority of employees there signed authorization cards.
“Essentially the UAW, which has for years been trying to make inroads into foreign-owned plants, finally has a foreign-owned plant it can organize,” Gary Chaison, a labor law professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said in an interview. “That’s really remarkable.”
“Volkswagen Group of America and the UAW have agreed to this common path for the election,” Frank Fischer, chairman and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in a statement. “That means employees can decide on representation in a secret ballot election, independently conducted by the NLRB. Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”
Chaison added that union affiliation isn’t required for employees to form worker councils in Germany, while the UAW said the US Chattanooga plant, which has around 1,550 hourly employees, is the only big Volkswagen facility without some form of union representation.