VW Chattanooga

No Valentine between VW employees and United Auto Workers

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Volkswagen employees in the Chattanooga, Tennessee plant have voted against representation by the UAW in a historic vote that was marked by a lot of media attention and some often questionable statements from the peanut gallery on both sides of the debate. Many things can be learned here.

About 1,500 workers were eligible to vote on the historic measure that would have put the United Auto Workers union in charge of representation for them at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. About 89 percent of those eligible workers voted by the time the polls closed today, says VW in a release, with the initial tally showing that 53 percent of the votes were not in favor of the UAW.

The voting was conducted by the National Labor Relations Board starting on Wednesday, February 12 through to today at 8pm local time. The NLRB has not given certified numbers from the voting, but they aren't expected to be much different from what VW has announced officially. The secret balloting process had nearly 1,000 employees voting on Wednesday with the rest trickling in through this evening.

So far, VW has used "work councils" in a round table meeting format used in many parts of Europe as a way of mitigating employee concerns and management needs. The American-style works councils are unique, but not that much different from some of their counterparts over the pond. According to this vote, those councils seem to have been doing their job.

The struggle by UAW to find relevance in today's automotive industry has continued as membership has plummeted 79 percent since the union's heyday in 1979. Both sides of the debate - especially those who are not directly invested in the unionization of the plant - were often at odds in games of dirty pool and misinformation.

Sebastian Patta, Vice President for Human Resources, said: "While there was intense outside interest in this election, our managers and employees inside the plant maintained high quality production and continued to work together in a calm and respectful manner."

This may be true in the plant itself, but out on the streets and on local and national airwaves and newsprint, it was a different story. Billboards against the unionization of the plant pictured one of the UAW's logos with the word "Auto" scribbled out and "Obama" put in its place, making it United Obama Workers. Talk radio hosts decried the union as just another communist threat to America while politicians jumped in to claim that bringing in the UAW would destroy Tennessee's economy.

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On the flip side, the union itself was campaigning heavily on a disconnected and ineffective plea to help other employees around the world by joining the UAW today in Tennessee. Some news and talk shows nationally, from as far away as Southern California, claimed that the vote to instill the union was the most important thing to happen in the "repressed South" since Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, feebly trying to tie the union to the presidents of past and present.


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Great update.
Nice article, John! As a VW owner I had clicked on a few articles about this as it came out and I saw some serious vitriole and labels like "evil" and worse, not from the UAW or VW workers or VW but from people with opinions about unions and their effects. I'd read that VW left it to the workers and didn't push one way or another, and that the workers were starting at a $20/hour wage, so the pretty close vote suggests to me that they saw no overwhelming benefit. Interesting for sure, and in the end the worker "victory" here is independent of the outcome of the vote -- it is the fact that even with all the words flying, they were in a position to choose for themselves.
Considering the great leeway given workers today and the questionable benefit of a union in today's workplace, I can see why the workers at VW rejected the UAW and why the union is having such a tough time gaining traction down the street at Smyrna with Nissan employees as well.
^ Correction: Nice article, Aaron! Oops :)
Yes, I was going to mention it was Aaron.
Thanks. :)