VW Plant Workers in Tennessee Vote Against Unionizing

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 17, 2019

Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted against joining the United Auto Workers during a closely watched unionization election last week. It was the second time since 2014 that the UAW lost an election to represent factory employees. The plant manufactures Volkswagen's Passat and Atlas models.

After three days of balloting, 833 (52 percent) workers voted against unionizing and 776 (48 percent) voted in favor of representation, with 93 percent of eligible workers in the proposed bargaining unit voting. In 2014, the VW employees rejected the union by a slightly larger margin of 727 - 626 (54 percent - 46 percent). The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) must still certify the official results in the coming weeks.

Although Volkswagen officially was neutral during the organizing effort, state politicians spoke against the union organizing drive. Gov. Bill Lee visited the plant in April and told workers that they would be better off having a direct relationship with the company.

The election drew nationwide attention as observers watched to see if the union could reverse its downward spiral of membership in the South. Since 1979, the UAW has seen its numbers fall by 75 percent. Following the results, the UAW issued a statement calling on Congress to take a comprehensive look at the country's labor laws and NLRB rules, claiming Volkswagen was able to delay the vote through legal maneuvers to ensure its desired outcome.

"Our labor laws are broken," said UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg. "Workers should not have to endure threats and intimidation in order to obtain the right to collectively bargain," said Rothenberg. "The law doesn't serve workers; it caters to clever lawyers who are able to manipulate the NLRB process."

"Our employees have spoken," said Frank Fischer, president of Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant in a statement late Friday accepting the results. "We look forward to working with the state of Tennessee, Hamilton County and the City of Chattanooga to support job creation, growth and economic development today and into the future."