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Tennessee Volkswagen Plant Joins the United Auto Workers Union - Southern Unionization to Expand

83% of employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, TN, factory voted to join the United Auto Workers Union on April 19. This marks the first time a foreign-owned factory in the American South has opted to unionize. Historically the South has been attractive to foreign investors mainly due to their political stances against unionization in the region. 


The United Auto Workers Union was formed in 1935 in Detroit, Michigan, during the blossoming of the American automotive industry. Americans formed together to seek recognition from the major auto companies General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford. This was due to workers feeling scared for their job security, as the workforce had just experienced widespread unemployment with the start of the Great Depression in 1929, with those effects lingering until 1941 (WWII). 


Within that same vein, the workforce at Volkswagen Chattanooga, TN, have been scared for their job security and wages. EV production continues to be pushed by corporate and political leaders. EVs are cutting into the revenues of automotive companies, as they cost more to produce than combustion cars. This sparks a fear in workers that the reduction in cash flow will negatively impact them. Not to mention, EVs are reportedly easier to build; Jim Farley, the CEO of Ford, said, “Electric vehicles will require 40% less labor to build than current combustion vehicles.” With these concerns, the employees at the Tennessee plant aligned to push for unionization to secure their hopeful future. 


The Chattanooga, TN, plant had voted against unionization twice, in 2014 and 2019. Volkswagen and TN Governor Bill Lee denounced these voters. Lee addressed the workforce in 2019, advising the labor body that unionizing was a mistake, leading to an unsuccessful unionization vote. However, in 2024, the employees received neutral feedback from VW regarding unionizing, and political leaders were too slow to deter voters before the Union vote. That did not stop political leaders from Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas from issuing a joint statement against the plant workers' efforts. 


The full statement is here. Below is an excerpt from the joint statement. 


“The reality is companies have choices when it comes to where to invest and bring jobs and opportunity. . . Unionization would certainly put our states’ jobs in jeopardy – in fact, in this year already, all of the UAW automakers have announced layoffs. In America, we respect our workforce and we do not need to pay a third party to tell us who can pick up a box or flip a switch. . . we are seeing it in the fallout of the Detroit Three strike with those automakers rethinking investments and cutting jobs. Putting businesses in our states in that position is the last thing we want to do.”


With this successful vote, the UAW now looks to represent the Mercedes Benz-Vance, Alabama plant workers, who have an upcoming union vote on May 18. This prompts some to believe that a wave of unionizations may sweep the southern automotive industry.

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