The United Auto Workers Union (UAW) was handed a beat down Friday at a Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga Tennessee. Workers at the VW factory voted against union representation, handing the UAW a devastating loss that derails the union's effort to organize auto factories in the South.
Southern auto workers reject union in a 712-626 vote, stunning many labor experts who expected a UAW win because Volkswagen tacitly endorsed the union and even allowed organizers into the Chattanooga factory to make sales pitches.
The loss is a major setback for the UAW. The union is pressing a major effort to make inroads in the South, where foreign automakers have built 14 assembly plants, eight built in the past decade. Experts believed that if unionization was going to work in the South, it would work here.
Unionizing a plant in the South is crucial to the union. UAW President Bob King told workers in a speech that unionizing the South is so crucial, the union has no long-term future without it.
The Volkswagen auto workers rejection of the UAW leaves the union with no foothold in the South, or with foreign manufacturers. This loss means the union will remain quarantined with the big three in Detroit.
Many viewed VW as the union's only chance to gain a crucial foothold in the South because other automakers have not been as welcoming as Volkswagen. Labor interests make up half of the supervisory board at VW in Germany, and they questioned why the Chattanooga plant is the only one without formal worker representation. VW wanted a German-style "works council" in Chattanooga to give employees a say over working conditions. The company says US law won't allow it without an independent union.
In Chattanooga, the union faced stern opposition from Republicans who warned that a UAW victory would chase away other automakers who might come to the region.
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was the most vocal opponent, saying that he was told that VW would build a new SUV in Chattanooga if workers rejected the union. That was later denied by a VW executive. Other politicians threatened to cut off state incentives for the plant to expand if the union was approved.
After 53 percent of the workers voted against his union, King said he was outraged at what he called "outside interference" in the election. He wouldn't rule out challenging the outcome with the National Labor Relations Board. "It's never happened in this country before that the US senator, the governor, the leader of the House, the legislature here, threatened the company with no incentives, threatened workers with a loss of product," King said. "We'll look at all our options in the next few days."
The UAW will have a hard time unionizing the South, regardless of what labor experts project. Southerners are more independent and have had the opportunity to observe union tactics for some time. They understand the harm unions cause, and don't want jobs quashed by unionization, as was the case with the Boeing factory in South Carolina. But, don't expect the well-funded union to give up on organizing Southern factories.