9 December, 2015Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee will be the first foreign owned auto plant in the Southern USA to have a trade union. Local 42 of IndustriALL Global Union affiliated UAW won a workplace election for 164 skilled trades employees at the large plant on 3-4 December.
The skilled trade workers fix and maintain the assembly machinery and are therefore an important section of blue-collar workers at the plant. Around 71 per cent voted in favour of the union.
This is a positive step towards establishing a full trade union for the total 1,450 workforce. IndustriALL President Bertold Huber wrote to congratulate Local 42, “Your success will stand as a symbol for the beginning of a new era of industrial relations”.
Volkswagen has lodged an appeal with the US National Labour Relations Board, arguing that a union election should be held for all blue-collar workers at the Chattanooga plant together. The appeal is not expected to stand.
The UAW narrowly lost a full workplace election in February 2014 in a ballot that was not free or fair due to heavy external interference. US Senator for the State of Tennessee falsely claimed in the lead up to the ballot that if workers voted to join the UAW, the factory would not expand its production.
The UAW will campaign to organize other foreign-owned car plants in Southern US States. The union is currently fighting against serious violations of labour rights at Nissan in Mississippi, and at Mercedes in Alabama, to support workers who want and need a union.
Local 42 President Mike Cantrell said after the vote, "We have said from the beginning of Local 42 that there are multiple paths to reach collective bargaining. And we believe these paths will give all of us a voice at Volkswagen in due time." Local 42 will seek to initiate collective bargaining as soon as possible for the new unit.
IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina committed international support for Local 42 until and after a full trade union is registered at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga:
“We are proud of the courageous Sisters and Brothers of Local 42 and the great UAW organizing team in Chattanooga. We know that the majority of the entire Chattanooga workforce wants to join the UAW, but because of interference from anti-union politicians and corporates, this step-by-step approach is necessary. It will make the organizing victory sweeter when it comes.”