Votes will be tallied late Friday night in the closely-watched union election at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant. If the United Auto Workers prevail, other foreign-owned auto plants in the South may be looking over their shoulder.
Some Republican politicians have warned that if VW falls, a domino effect would be triggered. Gary Casteel, the UAW’s top man in the South, says he doesn’t see that happening. But the union is already laying the groundwork elsewhere.
“We’re talking to Nissan workers. We’re talking to Mercedes workers. We talk to BMW workers,” he said this week. “Now which one of those has the amount of interest from the employees that we would actually try to start an organizing drive? We’d have to assess that.”
The union has been more active at Nissan’s Mississippi plant than the flagship facility in Tennessee.
But state Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) says he still worries about the Rutherford County plant. He worked on the line for eight years.
“I was told that if Nissan ever unionized, they would leave the state of Tennessee,” Sparks says. “We would be in an economic nightmare.”
Having twice rejected the UAW, Sparks concedes organizing in Smyrna would be a long way off. But he also hears concerns from within the plant about an increasing reliance on temporary workers with lower pay and benefits. He says that just might be enough to get employees rethinking the need for a union.
But if the UAW fails at Volkswagen, which has been more welcoming than any automaker its ever dealt with, other plants around the South will have less to worry about.