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UAW files for union vote at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant

New York CNN  —  The United Auto Workers union is seeking a union representation vote among more than 4,000 hourly workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. If the union were to win the vote, those workers would be the first current employees of a foreign automaker to be represented by a union. The union has announced a broad-based campaign to win representation at the American plants of 13 nonunion automakers. The campaign includes 10 foreign automakers with American plants – BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Volvo as well as Volkswagen – and three electric vehicle makers that have US plants that are not unionized – Tesla, Rivian and Lucid. The union said about 150,000 hourly employees work at 36 nonunion auto plants operated by the companies it is targeting in this campaign. That is slightly more than the union’s representation at the three unionized automakers, which have about 145,000 UAW members between them. The union recently won an immediate 11% pay increase for its members following strikes at the three unionized US automakers – General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, which makes cars and trucks under the Jeep, Ram, Dodge and Chrysler brands. Pay increases are expected to reach more than 30% over the life of the contract that runs through April 2028. Those contract gains prompted a number of nonunion automakers to announce double-digit US pay raises of their own – including Volkswagen. The VW Chattanooga plant is the only factory operated by VW that does not have union representation. But the union lost two previous votes when it attempted to organize the plant – in 2014 and again in 2019. But the union gained ground, winning 48% of the vote in the 2019 election. Unsuccessful votes were held over the years at some other nonunion plants as well, but many of the organizing efforts have never reached the point in which the union has filed for a vote. The union said it will not disclose what percentage of workers have signed cards requesting the election, but it described the percentage as a “super majority.” The union had spoken about getting the support of 70% of the workers before filing for a vote. “We are voting yes for our union because we want Volkswagen to be successful,” said Victor Vaughn, a logistics team member at VW, in a comment included in the union’s statement. “Volkswagen has spent billions of dollars expanding in Chattanooga, but right now safety is a major issue in our plant.” Vaughn said recently he was almost hit by four 500-plus pound crates while driving to deliver parts. He said no one in management inquired about the incident. “VW has partnered with unionized workforces around the world to make their plants safe and successful,” he said. “That’s why we’re voting for a voice at Volkswagen here in Chattanooga.” Unions often wait for more than 50% of employees to voice support for a union before filing for a vote. Once the election process starts, management often holds mandatory meetings with staff to make the case against union representation, and that convinces some earlier supporters of the union to end their support. Volkswagen did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.