Sunday, April 21, 2024

Volkswagen workers in Tennessee pass historic vote to unionize. (WaPo)

I am so proud of our Tennessee brothers and sisters for standing up to VW management and voting to elect a union to represent them.  Three cheers for the National Labor Relations Act, the National Labor Relations Board, the United Auto Workers, and generations of Americans who voted union.  That includes my parents, Ed and Mary Slavin, proud union organizers.  As LBJ said after Selma, "We SHALL overcome!"  Let freedom ring.  Cheers!  From The Washington Post:

Volkswagen workers in Tennessee pass historic vote to unionize

Victory marks the first win in the United Auto Workers campaign to organize the Southern factories of a dozen automakers

April 19, 2024 at 10:27 p.m. EDT
Volkswagen worker Stephanie Romack celebrates after a vote to join the United Auto Workers passes Friday in Chattanooga, Tenn. (George Walker IV/AP)
Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., passed a historic vote to join the United Auto Workers on Friday, becoming the first Southern auto factory to approve a union with an election since the 1940s.

Nearly three-quarters of 3,613 workers voted yes in the three-day election, the National Labor Relations Board said late Friday, confirming earlier reports by the union and Volkswagen. The ballot needed a simple majority to pass.

The vote marks a victory for the UAW and for organized labor, which has faced years of difficulty organizing factories in Southern states. The UAW has twice previously failed to unionize the VW plant, in 2014 and 2019. The plant will join a handful of other unionized auto factories in the South, where local laws and customs have made it hard for unions to make inroads.

The victory came after a concerted campaign by local VW workers, assisted by UAW staff, who rallied workers to their cause by pledging that the union would help them fight for better health care and retirement benefits and more paid time off.

The South has few unionized auto plants. Workers say this one could be next.

The union campaign also delivers a political victory for President Biden, who won the UAW’s endorsement earlier this year and has supported union expansion efforts.

“Congratulations to the workers at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on their historic vote for union representation with the United Auto Workers,” Biden said in a statement issued late Friday night. “I was proud to stand alongside auto workers in their successful fight for record contracts, and I am proud to stand with auto workers now as they successfully organize at Volkswagen.”

Volkswagen automobile plant employee Charles Kimbrough arrives at a union hall in Chattanooga for a UAW vote watch party Friday. (George Walker IV/AP)

In a brief statement, VW thanked its workers for voting in the “democratic” election. All of the company’s other factories worldwide are already represented by a union or a similar body that advocates for workers.

Volkswagen workers celebrated their overwhelming victory at a union hall in Chattanooga.

“This election is big,” VW worker Kelcey Smith said in a UAW statement. “People in high places told us good things can’t happen here in Chattanooga. They told us this isn’t the time to stand up, this isn’t the place. But we did stand up and we won. This is the time; this is the place. Southern workers are ready to stand up and win a better life.”

The vote gives momentum to the UAW’s ambitious campaign to organize the factories of a dozen automakers in the South. Like VW, its other targets are mostly foreign-headquartered companies, including Honda, Toyota and Hyundai. Tesla factories in Texas, Nevada and California are also targets.

Mercedes-Benz manufacturing facilities in Vance and Woodstock, Ala., will hold a union election in mid-May. The UAW says a majority of workers at those facilities have signed cards in support of the union.

Republican politicians in Tennessee had sought to thwart a yes vote by warning workers in public statements that unionization would threaten jobs and the region’s economic prosperity. Governors of six Southern states banded together to make a similar joint statement this week.

The Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga on April 10. (Kevin Wurm for The Washington Post)

The UAW has long represented workers at Detroit’s Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — at factories mostly in the Midwest. But the union’s membership has dropped precipitously over the past few decades, leaving the UAW scrambling for new sources of growth.

The UAW’s strikes against Detroit’s Big Three in the fall, led by the union’s ambitious new president, Shawn Fain, helped win record raises and other perks for workers — victories it is hoping to leverage to win new members in the South.

Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of labor unions, called the victory “a historic milestone for workers across the state and the broader South.”

Local “Right to Work” laws in Southern states, as well as political and cultural traditions, have made it difficult for unions to expand. But some experts say workers’ attitudes are changing as younger people enter the workforce.

The victory in Tennessee adds fuel to the labor movement’s growing momentum across the United States. Petitions for union elections are up 35 percent in fiscal year 2024 compared with the previous year, the NLRB announced earlier this month. And American support for unions has soared to 67 percent, after hitting a record low during the Great Recession, according to Gallup polling. Last year, workers staged high-profile strikes not just in the auto industry, but also in health care, hotels and entertainment.

The victory opens new doors for expanding union membership in the United States, which has been in a near-steady decline since the 1980s. Last year only 10 percent of U.S. workers were in a union, a record low, in part due to the explosive growth of the labor market. Meanwhile, a wave of high-profile victories at previously nonunion companies, such as Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and REI, have yet to achieve first union contracts for workers.

Jeanne Whalen is a reporter covering business around the world. She previously reported for the Wall Street Journal from New York, London and Moscow.  Twitter
Lauren Kaori Gurley is the labor reporter for The Washington Post. She previously covered labor and tech for Vice's Motherboard.  Twitter

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