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Supply Chain News: UAW Losing Streak at Foreign Auto Plants Continues, as Workers Say No to Union at Volkswagen Plant for Second Time


Vote was Close, but Once again VW Workers Say No to Organizing

June 17, 2019
SCDigest Editorial Staff

The United Auto Workers saw no change in its fortunes in trying to unionize factories of foreign auto makers, as workers in Chattanooga said no – for the second time in five years.

In 2014, three years after the plant opened, the UAW lost a vote to organize in a very high profile election that drew much national attention. The scenario was odd, with some local executives seeming to prefer that workers to unionize, and various politicians weighing in against organization.

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The VW votes comes just months ahead of contract talks between the UAW and the Detroit auto makers, whose labor contracts expire in September.

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This time, VW management was against unionization.

The UAW vowed to come back after the 2014 loss. It established a local union hall near the factory and organized a smaller group of skilled tradesmen at the plant, helping them get their foot in the door.

But VW refused to bargain with the unit, saying it wanted a vote of all production and maintenance workers. Last month, the union disavowed the smaller group and the NLRB approved the union's petition for the new election.

The union waged an aggressive campaign for the latest vote, but as announced Friday it saw the same result: 833 against the union versus 776 for the UAW.

That result was a bit tighter than 2014. Some 51.8% of workers voted against the union this time, while 48.2% supported the UAW. In the 2014 election, the margin was 53.2% against the union and 46.8% for the UAW.

As reported by the local paper the Chattanooga Times Free Press (Mike Pare), anti-union workers argued that the Detroit-based UAW was not needed because workers already have a strong voice at the plant. They criticized the UAW for the on-going federal corruption probe of the union in Michigan and for what they felt were unfair attacks by the UAW and its supporters against the automaker.

The Times Free Press quotes Mary Morrison, an eight-year employee at the plant, as saying the union simply wasn't needed and that "I don't want it in the door."

Pro-union VW workers looked for more leverage in negotiating with the company over issues such as health and safety, working conditions, paid time off, and retirement plan contributions.

The loss for the union comes after a blizzard of TV, radio, print and digital advertising were purchased in the Chattanooga area over the past few weeks. Most of the ads sought to gain the support of the some 1,700 VW production and skilled trades workers eligible to vote in the election.

93% of the eligible employees voted during the election. A total of 1,609 votes were cast during the three-day voting period from Wednesday through Friday last week.

Volkswagen says it has responded to concerns raised by plant workers in Tennessee by raising wages, adjusting shift work and reducing overtime. It also plans to invest more than $800 million in the factory to build electric vehicles, creating about 1,000 jobs in a couple of years.

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After the vote, the UAW challenged the process of trying to form a union at the auto plant, and call on Congress to take a comprehensive look at the country's labor laws and National Labor Relations Board rules.

"Clearly Volkswagen was able to delay bargaining with maintenance [workers] and ultimately this vote among all production and maintenance workers through legal games until they could undermine the vote," said Brian Rothenberg, a UAW International spokesman.

The VW votes comes just months ahead of contract talks between the UAW and the Detroit auto makers, whose labor contracts expire in September.

The UAW said it had about 400,000 members as of April, down from its peak of 1.5 million members in 1979. Last year, the UAW lost more than 35,000 members, a 9% decline, according to the Detroit News said, citing documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Since they first arrived several decades ago, the UAW has tried to organize the US factories of foreign automakers. But most of these plants reside in right-to-work states in the South, where unions are less popular than other areas of the country. So far, the UAW has not been able to fully organize a single plant of the foreign OEMs.

What is your reaction to the VW vote? Will the UAW ever succeed at foreign plants? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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