Updated following 3 p.m. press conference in Chattanooga
The United Auto Workers has started a local chapter in Chattanooga meant for Volkswagen workers, UAW local 42. Employees narrowly rejected the UAW earlier this year in a secret ballot at the plant, so union officials are trying another route to show how much support they have.
They suggest VW employees were scared into rejecting the union by Republican politicians who – as the February vote was occurring – hinted the plant might miss out on a big expansion with the UAW around.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with Volkswagen and have arrived at a consensus with the company,” said Gary Casteel, UAW secretary-treasurer and chief of organizing at transnational plants. “Upon Local 42 signing up a meaningful portion of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga workforce, we’re confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with it as a members’ union that represents those employees who join the local.”
Volkswagen said in a statement there is “no contract or other formal agreement with UAW,” also pointing out that the establishment of a local organization is not really the company’s business.
Some UAW supporters within the factory have already signed up. Justin King says he joined Wednesday night ahead of the official announcement on Thursday afternoon. Union officials say they won’t be asked to pay dues until a UAW contract gets ratified, if that ever happens.
However, union opponent Mike Jarvis says he feels like the union is trying to bully its way into the factory.
“We have made a clear vote that no, the majority of us do not want the UAW in there,” he said Thursday morning. “So that’s why I’m mad.”
Participation would be purely voluntary, but UAW officials say they expect Volkswagen would recognize their representation if a “substantial portion” of employees join.
The union is still trying to organize its first “transnational” plant in the South, which has been seen as key to the UAW’s future. Volkswagen has remained the union’s best hope because the company has welcomed organizing efforts unlike most automakers who do everything in their power to stop unionization.
Unlike the formal vote, this organizing effort falls outside the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. It’s the initial step toward a neutrality and card check agreement, said Vanderbilt sociologist Dan Cornfield who studies labor trends.
“By going this route, they may be able to do an end-run not so much in this case around employer resistance, but around political resistance,” Cornfield said.