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UAW Achieves Representation Victory At VW’s Chattanooga Assembly Plant, Historic Vote Could Prompt More Plants To Join

by | April 20, 2024

UAW achieves key victory in the Southern U.S. with historic membership vote at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant. This vote could give the union more momentum in its push to expand representation in hotly contested region

VW UAW film on line

The UAW achieved a major victory in the south with workers at VW’s Chattanooga assembly plant voting for membership

Building on a successful battle for new contracts with Detroit’s three automakers last fall, the United Auto Workers succeeded in reversing years of frustration in the South as it scored a historic breakthrough at the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee as a big majority of VW’s employee voted to join the UAW.

The unofficial tally from the election among Volkswagen workers showed 2628 or 73% voted for representation by the UAW while 985 or 27% voted against representation in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

UAW Victory Comes After Prior Setbacks

The UAW launched a massive voter education campaign to encourage workers to vote yes

The UAW had lost two previous elections at the Chattanooga plant in 2014 and 2019. But the earlier defeats at VW coupled with losses in NLRB elections at Nissan plants in Smyrna, Tennessee in 2001 and Canton, Tennessee in 2017 had created a narrative that suggested Southern workers were immune to union representation and saw no need for the UAW.

Conservative politicians in the South chipped in to oppose the UAW, with an assist from right-wing media, which continued to hammer at the union for its long history of support for liberal causes, such as tougher federal health and safety regulations and civil rights.

But after the UAW’s victory last fall in the “Stand-Up Strikes” against General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis, UAW President Shawn Fain launched an ambitious campaign to organize workers at 13 non-union auto manufacturers, including EV startups such as Tesla, Rivian and Lucid.

Chattanooga was prominent target for UAW

VW union image 3

A rally outside the VW plant in Chattanooga, TN.

Volkswagen, where the UAW had a base of support since the first election 10 years ago, quickly emerged as the union’s initial target in the UAW drive. But the UAW also has collected thousands of signatures from workers at Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda.

“This election is big,” said Kelcey Smith, a worker in the paint department at Volkswagen. “People in high places told us good things can’t happen here in Chattanooga. They told us this isn’t the time to stand up, this isn’t the place. But we did stand up and we won. This is the time; this is the place. Southern workers are ready to stand up and win a better life.”

“We saw the big contract that UAW workers won at the Big Three and that got everybody talking,” said Zachary Costello, a trainer in VW’s proficiency room. “You see the pay, the benefits, the rights UAW members have on the job, and you see how that would change your life. That’s why we voted overwhelmingly for the union. Once people see the difference a union makes, there’s no way to stop them.”

More UAW Stories

Historic vote could spark more victories at other plants

Mercedes-Benz Plant Workers Vance Alabama

Workers at the Mercedes plant in Alabama assemble a new EV. The plant is expected to be the second to have a vote on the UAW organizing drive.

At the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama, more than half of the employees have asked for UAW representation, and the NLRB has already scheduled a vote, the first ever held at an auto plant in Alabama, for May 13 to 17 in what union officials are describing as the next step in the organizing campaign.

Fain, who is playing an increasingly prominent role in the North American automotive industry, and his organizers have emphasized the employees of non-union automakers deserve better pay, benefits, and working conditions. They have also built a case the automakers from Europe and Asia have exploited low wages in the U.S. to fatten profits and executive salaries, which have steadily increased.

Changing demographics also appear to be playing a role in boosting the fortunes of the UAW. Workers being hired in at Southern plants are younger, more diverse, and more open to the UAW’s organizing than their older brothers and that has helped shift the work culture at some of these plants to be more open to union representation.


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