Despite Barack Obama’s Valentine’s Day speech favoring the unionization of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN, the plant’s 1500 employees voted against the United Auto Workers, dealing yet another blow in their efforts to unionize auto production in the south. The voting at Volkswagen is the first major election involving the UAW at an automotive assembly plant since 2001, when Nissan employees rejected UAW representation in Smyrna.
At a closed-door meeting of Democratic lawmakers in Maryland, Obama said that everyone was in favor of the UAW representing Volkswagen except for local politicians who “are more concerned about German shareholders than American workers,” according to a Democratic aide who attended the meeting with Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives. But, by and large, that statement is not true. The majority of Volkswagen employees are not in favor of the UAW representing Volkswagen.
The vote, which took place last week in Chattanooga, was 712-626 against the UAW. Many of Volkswagen’s employees breathed a collective sigh of relief that the union was not allowed into their plant. Many feared that their dues would be used for political purposes, while others worried that the UAW would be used as a boot on the neck of their employer, thus costing them their jobs.
Why wouldn’t workers at an automobile manufacturing plant want to see the union come in? Primarily, the employees in Chattanooga do not want to see their city disintegrate into corruption as Detroit (MI). Many feel that Volkswagen provides enough accolades to their employment that they don’t need to pay a union to speak for them.
While the three-day voting period was under way, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said that Volkswagen “could announce new investment in the plant if the UAW lost the secret ballot.” Corker defended his statement as “true and factual” in an interview with Reuters, despite Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW Chattanooga, saying that there was “no connection” between the vote and the possible investment.
The UAW probably will not give up trying to unionize the South, but in the last thirty years, they’ve had little success. Membership in the UAW has dropped from more than 1.5 million members in 1979 to below today’s membership of 400,000. Of the more than 900 automobile suppliers in Tennessee, the UAW represents only about a dozen.