Workers at Volkswagen Tenn. Plant Take Union Recognition Vote

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VOLKSWAGEN WORKERS in Chattanooga, Tenn., tell why they’re voting to unionize the plant with the UAW. Some 1,500 workers voted from Feb. 12-14 on union recognition. Photos by Jobs With Justice via PAI Photo Service

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VOLKSWAGEN WORKERS in Chattanooga, Tenn., tell why they’re voting to unionize the plant with the UAW. Some 1,500 workers voted from Feb. 12-14 on union recognition. Photos by Jobs With Justice via PAI Photo Service

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (PAI)—Amid a heavy anti-union campaign by outside Radical Right groups and Tennessee Republican politicians – but not the company – some 1,500 workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted from Feb.12-14 on whether to unionize with the United Auto Workers.

If the union wins, the victory would make VW the UAW’s second plant in the Volunteer State, but its first successful organizing drive in years in the anti-union South.  It also would be UAW’s first win at a “transplant” foreign automaker in that region, union Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Mitchell said earlier in February.

A Tennessee win would also embolden workers whom the union is trying to organize at other “transplants.”  They include a Nissan plant in Mississippi and a Honda plant in Alabama.  One worker there told the Volkswagen Workers United blog: “Way to stand, Volkswagen.  We’re waiting on a campaign to get going down here in Lincoln, Ala.  Honda, we’re sick’n-tired of getting pushed around!!!”

Campaigning was intense in the run-up to the election, with pro-UAW workers from Tennessee, from other UAW locals and from other unions in the U.S. urging their Chattanooga colleagues to vote in the Auto Workers as their bargaining representative.

VW itself stayed neutral.  And if the UAW wins, the local there would be unique, as it would sit on a joint “works council” with management to hash out problems at the plant, such as overtime rights and health and safety issues, before they fester.  Works councils exist, by law, at all German VW plants.

“We’ll set up a closer relationship between management and labor” at the Chattanooga plant via the council, UAW President Bob King told a recent interviewer.  Both realize “the best way for workers to get good wages and benefits is for the company to be successful.”

And VW has a master “works council” which meets top management in Germany on company-wide issues.  That council includes worker reps from every other VW plant worldwide.  They’re all unionized under relevant national laws – except Chattanooga.

“VW and UAW sat down and made an agreement to have a fair election,” Mitchell told UAW’s legislative-political conference on Feb. 5.  “It’s one where the employees would not be intimidated, and their decision would be treated with respect.”

But not by outside corporate interests and Tennessee’s ruling Republicans.  Two Radical Right groups, the National Right to Work Committee and the so-called

Americans for Tax Reform, bought billboards and ran ad campaigns denouncing the union.  The two anti-worker groups also linked the UAW to Democratic President Barack Obama and even alleged the union would take away Tennesseans’ guns.

Gov. Bill Haslam, R-Tenn., said unionization could hurt Tennessee’s prospects for attracting other big businesses.  Top state senate leader Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, declared “any additional incentives” for the VW plant’s expansion “will have a very tough time” in the senate.  The GOP controls the state senate, 26-7.

That pressure appeared not to deter the VW workers, the union, or their allies elsewhere in the labor movement, the VW Workers United blog shows.  “All VW employees should ask themselves ‘Why are all the politicians telling you to vote no UAW?’” Willie Hammontree wrote there.  “Who is paying for the billboards?  Their only reason for fighting the UAW is so they can hold down wages at other plants.”

Even VW hit back against the outside interference, the Chattanoogan reported, via the blog.  “Volkswagen Chattanooga management said Saturday that ‘outside political groups’ would not divert VW in connection with the upcoming controversial employee vote on whether the plant will be unionized,” the item read.