UAW Pushes for Bargaining Rights at Volkswagen's Chattanooga Plant

Oct 24, 2014 12:22 PM EDT | Tim Healey

The United Auto Workers has set its sights on Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tenn., plant in the hopes of becoming the exclusive bargaining agent for workers there within a year.

If the UAW succeeds, the group will score a big victory for unions in the traditionally anti-union South. Foreign-owned plants have been an especially tough nut to crack.

UAW President Dennis Williams told Reuters he hadn't set a specific date for when he hopes to have the UAW represent hourly workers at the plant during wage and benefit negotiations. He said he hopes to have recognition in time for workers' contract talks with Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler.

According to Williams, most of the 1,500 hourly employees at the plant are already members of the union's local chapter. But U.S. labor law requires the UAW to prove that to VW before it can get formal recognition to bargain.

UAW Local 42 did elect officers earlier this month, and they will work with the plant regarding recognition.

Eight months ago, the UAW lost an election among plant workers by a vote of 712 to 626, leading the UAW to complain that anti-union politicians and lobbyists made it impossible to have a fair election. Now the union is trying again and seems more certain that it will succeed.

The UAW also has a local chapter in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where Mercedes-Benz employs 2,500 full-time and 1,000 workers at its plant, but the UAW's efforts are further along in Tennessee.

The union has two things riding on the fight. For one, the union wants to succeed in Chattanooga as a way to convince non-union workers in other plants to unionize. Increasing membership is also a goal, as the UAW only has about 400,000 members, which is far from the 1.5 million members it had at its peak in 1979.

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