‘Historic breakthrough’ | Volkswagen workers vote to join the UAW in landmark unionization victory

Volkswagen workers vote to join the UAW in landmark unionization victory

Volkswagen workers at a plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted heavily in favor of joining the United Auto Workers union in a landmark vote, becoming the first foreign-owned US auto plant to unionize.

According to estimated results, 2628 Volkswagen workers voted to join the union on Friday, around 73% of those who participated.

The UAW released a statement on Friday, describing it as a “historic breakthrough” for autoworkers in the US.

The vote means workers in the Chattanooga plant will become the first Southern autoworkers outside of ‘the Big Three’ - General Motors, the Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler – to join the UAW.

“This election is big,” said Kelcey Smith, a worker at the plant. “People in high places told us good things can’t happen here in Chattanooga. They told us this isn’t the time to stand up, this isn’t the place. But we did stand up and we won. This is the time; this is the place. Southern workers are ready to stand up and win a better life.”  

Another, Zachary Costello, said workers were inspired by the success of UAW workers at the Big Three. “You see the pay, the benefits, the rights UAW members have on the job, and you see how that would change your life,” he stated.

Union workers at General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis won significant pay increases and other benefits after six weeks of strikes in September and October 2023.

Volkswagen most recently granted an 11% pay rise to Chattanooga workers, but UAW pushed ahead with its plans for unionization, arguing that the wages still lagged behind other plants.

Workers represented by the UAW at other major automakers are expecting to see a cumulative pay rise of around 33% by 2028.

By Volkswagen’s current estimations, the average Chattanooga plant worker earns around $60,000 per year before bonuses and benefits, whereas workers under the new UAW contract earn, on average, $10,000 more per year, taking home $75,000 before bonuses and benefits.

Roughly 3,600 workers turned out to vote at the Chattanooga plant elections, despite political opposition from a group of six Republican governors across southern states, who united to condem the UAW’s attempts to organize auto plants.

The victory is a major boost for UAW which has plans to secure union representation for roughly 150,000 workers at nonunion auto plants across the US, the majority of which are spread across the south.

The UAW has announced plans for workers at numerous plants for ten different automakers in the US including Volkswagen, BMW, Honda, and Toyota. The next election will take place in May at a Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama – though outside of Mercedes and Volkswagen, it has not filed any further elections at other manufacturers as of yet.

In a victory speech, Shawn Fain, President of the UAW, told workers to celebrate the historic victory. “And tomorrow, we go to fight,” he continued. “You guys are leading the way. We’re going to carry this fight on to Mercedes and everywhere else.”

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Volkswagen has consistently maintained a neutral stance on the vote and emphasized its support for workers’ right to decide on union membership.

“We will await certification of the results by the NLRB. Volkswagen thanks its Chattanooga workers for voting in this election,” the automaker said in a statement following the vote.

The NLRB has said it expects Volkswagen to begin bargaining with the UAW in good faith upon the certification.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) released a statement on Friday highlighting the vote as a “powerful message” to employers that workers will no longer accept mistreatment or exploitation.

“Whether it’s autoworkers in Tennessee, film crews in Hollywood, hotel workers in Las Vegas or baristas at the local coffee shop, when working people stand together in solidarity, we have the power to enact meaningful change and usher in a brighter future for all.”

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