It was close, but employees at Volkswagen’s only U.S. plant voted against being represented by the United Auto Workers. The VW plant in Chattanooga was seen as the union’s best chance to organize at a foreign-owned plant in the South.
Even after falling short, UAW president Bob King commended Volkswagen for keeping an “open atmosphere” so employees could decide for themselves. The union said it had a majority of workers sign cards of support for representation. But apparently, when it came to a secret ballot, 53 percent of workers voted no.
“They have spoken, and Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority,” said Frank Fischer, CEO of VW Chattanooga.
Outside forces played a major role. In recent days, Republican lawmakers warned that it would be tough to give more government incentives to a unionized plant. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who initially helped recruit Volkswagen to the state, even said he that if workers voted down the UAW, the company would expand the facility.
Late Friday night, UAW officials said support for organizing turned on these statements. President Bob King said such political interference has never happened before.
“All these people who thought they were going to come in and threaten workers and threaten the company, to me is outrageous. And I guess America is going to have to decide – this country is going to have to decide – are we going to really allow workers to decide for themselves if they want representation or not, or are we going to allow those kinds of threats and intimidation.”
Sen. Corker, on the other hand, issued a statement saying he was “thrilled” the the workers voted down the union.
UAW officials call it a “setback.” Volkswagen was supposed to become a new model. The union was going to try a German-style works council and prove they could get along with the bosses and help the company prosper. This was supposed to help them organize in other plants in the south, particularly German automakers like BMW and Mercedes, and then maybe places like Nissan and Hyundai.
The UAW is talking about its options, but its unclear there are any legitimate challenges to be made. The election results still have to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board.
The union still has the beginnings of campaign efforts at a few other plants, but none of those companies have been as welcoming as Volkswagen.