Erik Schelzig/AP

Volkswagen and UAW to create union at Tennessee plant

The announcement is a reversal of an anti-union vote by workers at the factory in February

The South may get its first union at a foreign-owned automaker after all. Bucking an anti-union vote by workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in February, the United Auto Workers and Volkswagen will announce Thursday the creation of a union local.

Participation in the local would be voluntary and not formally recognized by VW until a majority of the 3,200 employees at the plant agree to join, according to The Tennessean. It’s unclear that that number of employees would agree to join immediately, but pro-union workers lost narrowly in February’s vote, and Volkswagen has actively encouraged the creation of a union, threatening to pull back on expansion plans if workers cannot agree to form one.

"We will be announcing a local, and we would fully expect that Volkswagen would deal with this local union if it represents a substantial portion of its employees," UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel of Ashland City told The Tennessean.

Workers had rejected a plan to form a union in a 712–626 vote, despite Volkswagen being keen on the idea. The vote had become symbolic of undue foreign and liberal influence in the conservative state, and state politicians like Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam, both Republicans, actively opposed VW’s and the UAW’s efforts to unionize. Leading up to the vote, signs around Chattanooga conflated a vote for unionization with support for President Barack Obama.

At nearly every other VW plant across the globe, workers participate in a “works council” in which many decisions are made collectively between management and workers.

VW had said the rejection of a union could hinder the company’s growth in the South. Bernd Osterloh, head of VW's global works council, had said if VW opened another plant in the U.S. it might not be in the South, due to the area’s apparently anti-union stance.

VW is currently in talks with Tennessee to expand the Chattanooga plant and start assembling a second type of vehicle there, in exchange for about $300 million in tax breaks and other incentives, according to The Tennessean. If VW does decide to manufacture a second vehicle in Tennessee, Chattanooga will have beat out Puebla, Mexico, as the favored location for VW manufacturing. Currently the Chattanooga plant manufactures only the Passat.

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