Updated Mar 18, 2024 - Business

UAW wants vote to unionize Volkswagen plant in Tennessee

A tall sign bearing the VW logo over a factory

The UAW is attempting to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo: Mark Elias/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The UAW is calling for a federally sanctioned vote to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Why it matters: With more than 4,000 workers, the factory would be the only non-Detroit Three automotive assembly plant in the U.S. to be unionized.

Driving the news: The UAW said Monday that it's filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold the unionization vote after a "supermajority" of workers at the plant signed cards signaling their willingness to join.

  • The NLRB confirmed that it received the petition.
  • The union publicly launched its organization campaign at the factory after it won record contracts following an unprecedentedly simultaneously strike of General Motors, Ford and Stellantis in the fall.

Reality check: The UAW has lost two previous votes to organize the Chattanooga factory — in 2014 and 2019 — both times by narrow margins.

  • Factories in the South have historically been extremely difficult places to organize.
  • But the union is hoping that this time is different after substantial employee turnover at the factory and after positive publicity about the new Detroit Three contracts.

What they're saying: President Biden congratulated the autoworkers in Chattanooga over their action in a statement on Monday night.

  • "As one of the world's largest automakers, many Volkswagen plants internationally are unionized," Biden said.
  • "As the most pro-union president in American history, I believe American workers, too, should have a voice at work. The decision whether to join a union belongs to the workers."

The other side: VW — which has said it will be neutral in the organizing campaign — said in a statement that it supports a vote.

  • "We respect our workers' right to a democratic process and to determine who should represent their interests," the company said in a statement.
  • But the company has indicated in the past that it won't be quiet: "Neutral doesn't mean silent. Neutral means we're impartial to what the employees decide," a VW official said in February. But "we'll continue to express our voice directly" and call out any "misinformation" in the UAW's campaign.

What's next: Once the NLRB confirms that at least 30% of the employees at the site have signed authorization cards, the vote is next.

  • If the UAW and VW agree on terms of the election — including which workers are part of the bargaining unit and the timing of the vote — they could sign a stipulated election agreement.
  • "If they don't agree, the Regional Director could order a pre-election hearing and then she would order an appropriate election," NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado said in an email.

The bottom line: A win in Tennessee would give the UAW momentum in its campaign to organize other automakers, including Tesla, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a response from the NLRB and statements from President Biden and VW.

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