Tennessee Volkswagen workers reject union

Factory workers voted 712 to 626 to prevent the United Auto Workers from representing them

Workers at Volkswagen’s three-year-old factory in Chattanooga, Tenn. have voted not to be represented by the United Auto Workers union.
Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Workers at Volkswagen’s three-year-old factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted Friday to reject union representation by the United Auto Workers (UAW), frustrating an effort to revive the waning influence of the labor movement in the South. 

The vote tally concluded with 712 voting no, and 626 voting yes.

The UAW's bid to represent VW's 1,550 hourly workers faced fierce resistance from local politicians and national conservative groups.

The defeat could scuttle the 400,000-member union's latest attempt to stem a decades-long decline in membership, revenue and influence. It could reinforce the widely held notion that the UAW is unable to overcome the South's deep opposition toward organized labor.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., escalated what has been a seesaw battle between union and anti-union forces, saying he had been "assured" that if workers at the factory reject the UAW, the company would reward the plant with a new product to build.

After the vote tally was announced Friday, the UAW tweeted: "vote loses but the workers and the company both handled the process well. Outside interference was an outrage, however."

Volkswagen CEO Frank Fischer, in a statement, thanked employees for their participation in the three-day vote.

“Our employees have not made a decision that they are against a works council," Fischer said. 

“Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America's production needs and serve our employees’ interests,” he added.

Opinions among employees before the conclusion of the vote were mixed. On Wednesday, several employees spoke to Al Jazeera about the process.

John Wright said he supported the move to unionize at the VW plant because he feels he has no voice in key decisions made by management.

"The works council here locally would help us have more communication, more open communication, with management for improving anything on the lines or anything that employees may discern is important to them," he said.

But another employee, Mike Jarvis, voiced his opposition to the union.

"I feel in my heart they are ramming this down my throat," said Jarvis, who works in the plant’s body shop. Jarvis told Al Jazeera he thought the UAW was making too many promises, and he was fearful that a decision to unionize could lead to pay decreases and additional work hours.

"They’re telling them they’re going to give them $28 an hour,” he said. “Me personally, I’ve been there three years now and I’m making more money than that. So I’m going to take a cut in pay, all these other people are going to take a cut in pay. But they’re being told they are going to make more money."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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