Chattanooga Showdown

If workers vote to join a union at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant this week, they’ll be changing America’s labor relations for the better

by Harold Meyerso

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

This week—from Wednesday through Friday—employees at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee may well make history. Actually, they may make it twice.

If a majority of the roughly 1,500 workers vote to recognize the United Auto Workers as their union, their plant will become the first unionized auto factory in the South. It will also become the first American workplace of any kind to have a works council—a consultative body of employees who regularly meet with management to jointly develop policy on such work-related issues as shifts, the best way to use new machinery, and kindred concerns. Mandated by law in Germany, works councils do not bargain over wages and benefits, but they do provide a way in which workers can have input into policies that affect their lives. They also have led to countless productivity increases in German manufacturing.

The vote at Volkswagen marks the latest stage in the UAW’s decades-long campaign to organize auto plants in the South. In recent decades, a host of foreign carmakers—not just Volkswagen but BMW, Nissan, Toyota, and others—have built factories in the right-to-work states of the old Confederacy. For these companies, going South was a two-fer—it enabled them to produce for the American market on American soil, and it ensured that the prospects of unionizing their workers were slim. Continue reading

Volkswagen workers call for an end to outside interference

United Autoworkers

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Volkswagen workers from the Chattanooga, Tenn., facility called for an end to the interference in their election by outside special interest groups and politicians. The workers will vote in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Feb. 12–14, 2014. Following the election announcement, special interest groups like the National Right to Work Committee, and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform launched an intense campaign in Chattanooga, aimed at swaying the outcome of the vote.

“We feel very fortunate that Volkswagen has committed to remain neutral and let workers make this decision on our own,” said Volkswagen worker Chris Brown. “But it’s really unfair that people who don’t even work at Volkswagen are trying to influence our vote.” 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

Volkswagen Isn’t Fighting Unionization—But Leaked Docs Show Right-Wing Groups Are

By Mike Elk

Anti-union conservatives are worried that if the UAW successfully organizes Volkwagen's Tennessee plant, it will create a domino effect in the South. Here, protesters lift a sign supporting a UAW organizing campaign at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. (Photo from United Auto Workers on Facebook)

Anti-union conservatives are worried that if the UAW successfully organizes Volkwagen’s Tennessee plant, it will create a domino effect in the South. Here, protesters lift a sign supporting a UAW organizing campaign at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. (Photo from United Auto Workers on Facebook)

After Volkswagen issued a letter in September saying the company would not oppose an attempt by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to unionize its 1,600-worker Chattanooga, Tenn., facility, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was flabbergasted.

“For management to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief,” Corker, who campaigned heavily for the plant’s construction during his tenure as mayor of Chattanooga, told the Associated Press. “They will become the object of many business school studies—and I’m a little worried could become a laughingstock in many ways—if they inflict this wound.”

Corker isn’t the only right-winger out to halt UAW’s campaign. In the absence of any overt anti-union offensive by Volkswagen, conservative political operatives worried about the UAW getting a foothold in the South have stepped into the fray.

Leaked documents obtained by In These Times, as well as interviews with a veteran anti-union consultant, indicate that a conservative group, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, appears to be pumping hundred of thousands of dollars into media and grassroots organizing in an effort to stop the union drive. In addition, the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation helped four anti-union workers in October file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Volkswagen was forcing a union on them. Continue reading