VW workers at a German plant Sean Gallup, Getty Images

VW Workers Unionize in Tennessee

The Chattanooga location is the only Volkswagen plant in the world without representation on the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, though that could change soon.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Employees at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee decided to organize for the first time since foreign automakers set up shop in the business-friendly South, which is known for its low rate of unionization.

The UAW won a breakthrough representation election Friday at the Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga. Skilled tradeworkers voted to join UAW, cracking the wall of non-union assembly plants belonging to foreign carmakers in the region.

The National Labor Relations Board, which supervised the process, said 71% of employees voted to join during the two-day election, which began Thursday.

“A key objective for our local union always has been moving toward collective bargaining for the purpose of reaching a multi-year contract between Volkswagen and employees in Chattanooga,” UAW Local 42 president Mike Cantrell said in a statement.

UAW has failed to attract workers in the southeastern United States, losing elections at Nissan in Tennessee in 1989 and 2001, and at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga in February 2014. Cantrell said that the timing of the skilled trades’ election is unrelated to the emissions scandal rocking the company. 

After years of pressure from anti-union groups and conservative political figures, less than 10% of U.S. workers in the private sector are now covered by labor contracts.

Because of its non-union status, the Chattanooga plant is the only Volkswagen plant in the world without representation on the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council.

Labor leaders urged Volkswagen to drop its plans to appeal the outcome of the election.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

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