Art Wheaton, automotive industry expert and senior extension associate with Cornell University’s ILR School, discusses why the upcoming unionization vote of VW workers in Chattanooga, Tenn. will have implications throughout the U.S. automotive industry, affecting worker-employer relations and perhaps the structure of unions themselves.
“The United Auto Workers union election in Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn. auto assembly plant has major implications for both the union and the Right to Work States in the South.
“Volkswagen management has chosen to hold a secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board in order to give employees the right to organize. The UAW has signed union authorization cards by more than 50 percent of its eligible employees.
“If the employees choose to vote for the union it would be the first German auto plant in the U.S. to vote for a union since the original – now closed – Volkswagen plant in Pennsylvania was organized by the UAW.
“UAW International President Bob King has staked his legacy and reputation on the ability to organize a foreign automaker in the South. Volkswagen’s global corporate philosophy and strategic advantage is having ‘works councils’ represent the plant workers and management in major decisions including locating new vehicle production.
“U.S. labor law requires VW to have a union in order for the works councils to be legal. If Volkswagen workers vote for the union it is expected to have a ripple effect on other auto manufacturers in the Southern United States and their suppliers.
“The vote is expected to be close with emotions and rhetoric showing a similar animosity between pro-union and anti-union organizations and political parties as is found in Congress today.”