VW Union Vote Drama Plays Out Away From Tennessee Plant

A truck bed at a Chattanooga union hall is used as a campaign tool. UAW officials are working out of an IBEW office for the time being. While the union doesn't have a presence in Chattanooga, the UAW does have 5,000 members in Tennessee. Most of them are from GM Spring Hill. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

A truck bed at a Chattanooga union hall is used as a campaign tool. UAW officials are working out of an IBEW office for the time being. While the union doesn’t have a presence in Chattanooga, the UAW does have 5,000 members in Tennessee. Most of them are from GM Spring Hill. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

The days leading up to a big union vote at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant are filling with name-calling and threats, and not inside the Chattanooga factory.

“The only drama that I can say that is persistent is actually outside the plant,” VW employee and union supporter John Wright said Monday.

Wearing a gray VW sweatshirt and leather work boots, he was dressed for the overnight shift as he spoke in a Chattanooga union hall.

The United Auto Workers has signed union cards from a majority of Volkswagen’s 1,550 hourly workers, including Wright. Some employees have come out publicly against the union. More than 60 showed up at a meeting Saturday. But Wright says the mood is calm.

“I’m telling people that I’m for it, but I’m not out brow-beating anybody for it,” he said. “The company says respect one another…and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

That’s not to say the UAW isn’t working hard. Top Detroit-based executives will spend the week making a final push on the ground. They’ll meet individually with workers who may be on the fence. If they’re successful, state lawmakers may end up needing to mend a fence with Volkswagen.

After Republican leaders called VW “un-American” and threatened to withhold incentive money Monday, Democrats pounced with their own press conferences.

“I’m just appalled to see this sort of behavior in the state of Tennessee,” Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) said.

Democrats have joined VW in asking that third parties to butt out.

The Center for Worker Freedom has this digital billboard in Chattanooga, a mile away from union offices and not far from the VW plant. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

The Center for Worker Freedom has this digital billboard in Chattanooga, a mile away from union offices and not far from the VW plant. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

National organization’s like the Center for Worker Freedom – a group associated with anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist – have put up billboards. One suggests the UAW will bring doom and gloom to Chattanooga, driving industry out of town like it did in Detroit.

There are few facts to back up such claims, says state Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga). And she says threats to pull back state incentives cross the line into “intimidation.”

“That is coercion,” she said. “That’s all you can call it.”

There’s still more time before workers begin voting Wednesday and more press conferences to come. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker has scheduled an event Tuesday morning. He has been one of the UAW’s chief critics.

If successful, VW’s Tennessee plant would be the first foreign-owned facility organized in the South.


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