Workers at VW’s Tennessee Plant Vote for Union

(Detroit Free Press/TNS) -

The United Auto Workers has been certified as the representative of more than 45 percent of Volkswagen’s workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., a major victory for the union, which has been trying to gain a foothold in the South and in foreign auto plants.

The results of the independent audit of union membership clear the way for the union to meet regularly with management on workplace issues. The UAW said it was not told the exact percentage by VW but believes the final tally could be more than 50 percent, which would give the union more leverage.

The UAW has a history of failed elections to unionize Asian- and German-owned assembly plants in the South. The 45 percent threshold is key and brings the union a step closer to becoming the exclusive bargaining representative for the plant workers.

“As anticipated, we surpassed the highest level under Volkswagen’s new Community Organization Engagement policy, and the local leadership is ready to move forward with additional conversations with the company,” UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said in a statement.

The UAW also reiterated that it believes Volkswagen made promises this year to recognize the union as the only labor union representing the automaker’s workers.

Volkswagen said Monday that the union’s membership list was verified by an outside accounting firm. Volkswagen declined to disclose the exact percentage of employees who have joined the union.

The UAW said the list of workers submitted is a majority of Volkswagen’s workforce, but the union has not been told the specific percentage certified by the auditor, so it cannot reveal the final results. More details will be revealed during a conference call at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

If auditors have verified that the UAW represents more than 50 percent of Volkswagen’s workers, the union could ask VW for recognition as the exclusive bargaining agent.

Whether or not the UAW has the exclusive bargaining power, under Volkswagen’s new labor policy the UAW will be able to meet with the management team regularly.

The UAW has been trying to organize Volkswagen workers for at least three years, and believes that organizing automotive assembly plants in the South is crucial to its survival.

Despite recent modest membership gains, the UAW represents fewer than 400,000 workers, down from 1.4 million in 1979. The union also has organizing campaigns with Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa and Nissan in Canton, Miss., and Smyrna, Tenn.