The United Auto Workers, UAW, union lost the vote to organize workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Feb. 14. It would have been the first union of a foreign automaker in the South, but it fell short by 87 votes.
According to the statement released by the UAW, Volkswagen workers voted 712-626 against joining a union. The vote was not without controversy as the UAW described a “firestorm of interference and threats” from politicians and special interest groups.
UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs union organization in the South, said: “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. 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.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is at the center of the controversy with some saying his actions may have been illegal. According to a Reuters report, Sen. Corker was quoted as saying, “I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.”
This was contrary to public statements made by Volkswagen as well as actions by the automaker. Volkswagen has made no attempts to block access to Chattanooga workers and previous reports indicate the company was all but “campaigning” for a UAW union. Volkswagen also denied Corker’s claims ahead of the vote.
The Daily Beast cites Michael Honey, a labor historian from the University of Washington, who says the actions of Corker and local politicians may have violated the Wagner Act, which sets the basic rights and boundaries of attempts to organize and vote.
Volkswagen’s statement after the vote remained neutral but supportive of the UAW and did not call the UAW vote a complete defeat of worker organization. Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in a statement: “Our employees have not made a decision that they are against a works council. Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant.”
While the vote may be considered a setback, foreign automakers have opened 14 plants in the South and VW was very supportive in organizing workers. The UAW will continue to work for a breakthrough in the region, the Associated Press reports. UAW President Bob King did not rule out an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, citing possible political interference.