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Outside interference undermines VW workers’ free choice in Chattanooga

17 February, 2014A vote on union representation at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee ends in a defeat for IndustriALL affiliate the UAW by 626-712 after threats and intimidation by Republican politicians and anti-union groups.

Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant voted against union representation that would have led to the establishment of a works council. It would have been the first such model of labor-management relations in the United States, supported by the Volkswagen company and its CEO of the Chattanooga plant, Frank Fischer.

At the end of a three-day election  supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, on 14 February it became clear that Volkswagen workers had voted against United Auto Workers (UAW) representation by 712 to 626.

The workers’ free choice was undermined by an aggressive opposition campaign led by Republican politicians and anti-union groups, involving threats and intimidation. Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers threatened to withhold tax incentives from Volkswagen if the workers voted for union representation. A Republican senator claimed he had been “assured” of new investment if the workers voted against the union.

The election took place after unprecedented cooperation between IndustriALL, United Auto Workers (UAW) and German’s IG Metall. UAW worked hard in the weeks leading up to the election, being allowed to enter the plant to inform workers of the consequences and benefits of establishing a works council.

“While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union,” said UAW President Bob King.

“We commend Volkswagen for its commitment to global human rights, to worker rights and trying to provide an atmosphere of freedom to make a decision,” said UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s Southern organizing. “Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that that would grow jobs in Tennessee.”

IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina says:

“This is sad news for IndustriALL’s global family, but equally for the workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga. Outside interference undermined the workers’ free choice.  Workers  in Tennessee should be able to enjoy true freedom of association. We applaud the 626 who resisted threats and intimidation and voted in favour of defending their rights collectively.”

The Tennessee plant is the only Volkswagen manufacturing unit in the world without union representation.