The United Auto Workers appears to have finally cracked the solidly non-union South.
The UAW said it now has enough employee signatures at the Volkswagen of America plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to serve as their representative in discussions with VW management on both the local and international level.
“We appreciate Volkswagen’s timely response in verifying UAW Local 42’s substantial membership level, which exceeds a majority of workers at the plant,” said Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW, who heads the International Union’s Transnational Department.
Casteel added that local leadership is ready to move forward with additional conversations with the company and Local 42 will take advantage of the company’s offer to establish biweekly meetings with Volkswagen Human Resources and the factory’s executive committee.
In winning representation, the UAW overcame the defeat it suffered earlier this year in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Prior to this recognition, Chattanooga had been the only Volkswagen plant in the world not represented on the maker’s Global Group Works Council.
The effort to organize Chattanooga was thoroughly planned, even though the initial result wasn’t favorable to the UAW. Even before the NLRB vote in February, the UAW had enlisted the support of the German Metalworkers, IG Metall, and the labor representatives on Volkswagen AG’s board of supervisors.
Both IG Metall representatives and the labor representative on VW’s board had endorsed UAW representation and pushed VW’s top management to accept it over the vociferous objections of Tennessee’s conservative political establishment.
Bob Corker, a Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee and a former mayor of Chattanooga, who is an outspoken foe of the UAW, said Volkswagen’s management would become a “laughingstock” if they accepted union representation.
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The German support grew out of a series of meetings between the top UAW officers, led by then UAW president Bob King, and IG Metall, going back to 2011.
IG Metall and the labor representatives on the Daimler AG board of supervisors, which determines the contract terms and salaries of top managers, also now pressing for UAW representation at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
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The Tuscaloosa plant has been non-union for two decades. But last month, the UAW set up local union office at the Tuscaloosa plant for the first time. Daimler has insisted that union representation is up to the employees, but has allowed pro-union employees to campaign for support inside the plant for the first time.
The Tuscaloosa plant is the only plant in the Daimler manufacturing system worldwide that does not have union representation for employees.
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The UAW maintains NLRB supervised elections can by undermined by hostile local management or by outside groups. The UAW with the help of German union and labor representatives believe they have found a way around an NLRB system, which has been tilted against unions.