How The UAW Lost Chattanooga.

We invite additional analysis of the UAW union election at VW in Chattanooga.–Talking Union

by Douglas Williams and Cato Uticensis

UAWThere is no question that the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) failure to organize at the Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, TN is significant. It’s the first time UAW has actually brought a strategic campaign targeting the so-called “transplant” automakers to a National Labor Relations Board ballot. Secondly, it’s the UAW’s first major campaign in the South in decades. Thirdly, this election was touted as a new model by both VW executives and UAW leadership, seeking to create a “works council” at the plant in Tennessee similar to ones in existence at every other VW plant. More on that last point later.

Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns, and Money does a great job analysing several aspects of this story. The issues surrounding capital mobility he raises are crucial to understanding why VW and other foreign automakers have opened factories in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. He also calls a measure of bullshit on the argument that has been made by union leadership that “outside groups” were responsible for the defeat of the UAW, noting that the conservatism of white Southerners (who dominated the voter pool in the election) is hardly a new development. As such, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Grover Norquist should not be handed a victory trophy for what amounts to the UAW shooting themselves in the leg. Continue reading

After Historic UAW Defeat at Tennessee Volkswagen Plant, Theories Abound

Workers and organizers cite outside interference, management collusion, union missteps, two-tier agreements and Neil Young

Mike Elk

United Auto Workers President Bob King (L) and Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams (R) prepare to respond to the union's election loss at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Mike Elk)

United Auto Workers President Bob King (L) and Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams (R) prepare to respond to the union’s election loss at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Mike Elk)

“I am excited,” auto worker Justin King told me as he put on his cowboy boots to get ready for the victory party planned for late Friday night. At approximately 10 p.m., the United Auto Workers union and Volkswagen would announce the results of a three-day union election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

King had reason to be excited. For nearly three years he had campaigned to get the union into his plant. As one of the leaders of the drive, his sense was that the UAW had the support of the majority of the plant’s 1,550 hourly workers. Unlike in most union drives, organizers didn’t have to worry about the company threatening workers’ job, because Volkwagen had agreed to remain neutral in the process, so King felt cautiously optimistic that the support would hold.

But Justin King never got to enjoy his victory party. An hour after we spoke, retired Circuit Court Judge Samuel H. Payne announced to a roomful of reporters assembled in a Volkswagen training facility that the UAW had lost the campaign, with 626 workers voting in favor of the union and 712 voting against. To the labor reporters, who had seen many union election results, it was jaw-dropping news. How could a union lose an unopposed campaign? Continue reading

UAW’s Take: Historic election brings outside interference in the vote of Chattanooga Volkswagen workers

United Auto Workers

UAWCHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant today have voted against union representation that would have led to the establishment of a works council that would have been the first such model of labor-management relations in the United States.

At the end of voting on Friday, Volkswagen workers voted against joining the union in a vote of 712 to 626.

The decision follows three days of voting during an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board and comes amid a firestorm of interference and threats from special interest groups. Continue reading

Tenn. Lawmakers Threaten to Block Subsidies If VW Plant Unionizes

by Mike Elk


Volkswagen employees go to the polls on Wednesday, but will state politicians' threats affect their union election?   Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons

Volkswagen employees go to the polls on Wednesday, but will state politicians’ threats affect their union election? Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons

 In the run-up to a union election, workers typically run a gauntlet of threats from management, including claims that a vote to unionize will jeopardize their jobs by hurting the company’s bottom line.

But in the case of an upcoming union election for Volkswagen’s 1,600-worker auto plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., set to run from February 12–14, the company has pledged to remain neutral during the union drive. Last week, Volkswagen even invited the United Auto Workers (UAW), which is vying to represent the workers, to come and make a pre-election presentation at the plant.

While Volkswagen has vowed not to interfere, however, outside forces have picked up the anti-union playbook and are telling workers that choosing union representation could endanger their jobs. At a press conference on Monday, Tennessee Republican State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson and Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick implied that state subsidies to Volkswagen could be blocked if the plant unionizes. Continue reading

Volkswagen Tied to Another Anti-Union Group

By Mike Elk


A July flier by the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturing Association offers a training in response to ‘the unionization threats of UAW at Volkswagen.’

CHATTANOOGA, TENN.—Volkswagen America recently told Working In These Times that it was not funding efforts to stop the United Auto Worker (UAW) union drive at the VW plant in Chattanooga, and that it supported the right of employees to unionize. Now, evidence has emerged connecting VW to another anti-union group.

Last month, WITT asked VW why it donated to a gala held in June by the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute—whose then-employee, Matt Patterson, had launched a media and community-awareness blitz against the UAW campaign in Chattanooga. Volkswagen America spokesman Carson Krebs responded, “We didn’t support CEI for any specific action or any action against UAW. Our Governmental Affairs Department attended a dinner featuring Senator Rand Paul—so did Ford and the Auto Alliance. As a general principle, Volkswagen supports the right of employees to representation at all its plants and is in favor of good cooperation with the trade union or unions represented at its plants.”

However, Working In These Times has uncovered that Volkswagen America supports a second group engaged in anti-UAW activity in Chattanooga: the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturer Association (CRMA). The local industry group boasts VW as a member, and the CEO of Volkswagen America’s Chattanooga Operation, Frank Fischer, sits on its board of directors. Continue reading