By Ian Swanson
Employees at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee have rejected joining the United Automobile Workers union in a major defeat for organized labor in the South.
The workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga voted 712-626 to stay out of the union after a lobbying fight in which Republican politicians warned unionization could lead Volkswagen and automobile companies to leave the state.
Union officials praised Volkswagen but blamed politicians who had warned workers that by joining they union, they could hurt their own economic interests.
“We commend Volkswagen for its commitment to global human rights, to worker rights and trying to provide an atmosphere of freedom to make a decision,” UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s Southern organizing, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that that would grow jobs in Tennessee.”
UAW officials vowed they would not give up in their effort to organize workers in the South, a region that historically has been much more difficult to unionize.
“While we’re outraged by politicians and outside special interest groups interfering with the basic legal right of workers to form a union, we’re proud that these workers were brave and stood up to the tremendous pressure from outside,” said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams. “We hope this will start a larger discussion about workers’ right to organize.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who had urged workers to reject the UAW, praised the result.
“Needless to say, I am thrilled for the employees at Volkswagen and for our community and its future,” said Corker, a former major of Chattanooga.
Corker and a number of other Tennessee Republicans had become heavily involved in the fight.
Corker said he’d been told the UAW would add an assembly line making SUVs if the union was rejected, while some state lawmakers warned that Volkswagen could lose out on tax credits if the union was organized.
UAW President Bob King at a news conference after the vote said the union was outraged at what it labeled interference, and that it would consider its legal options.
That could mean bringing a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, which counted ballots at the site.