UAW Vote Fails at VW Tennessee Plant

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This last week the UAW campaign at the VW Tennessessee, a story we have been covering for some time, came to a conclusion. The votes were cast, counted and by a slim margin, workers said no to the union. Yet, like most things, this story isn’t without controversy.

UAW Vote Fails at VW Tennessee Plant

A historic vote at the VW Tennessee facility saw union leaders disappointed and pointing fingers to outside influences.

The voting results were released, on Friday, showed 712 workers opposed and 626 in favor, according to an story. VW says the votes represent 89 percent of the total workers who could vote. The results were released by a retired Tennessee Circuit Court Judge and will still need to be reviewed by the National Labor Relations Board.

“While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union,” UAW President Bob King said in a statement.

All of this makes it sound like an open and shut story. Except, like most things, there is more to it.

Not So Simple

In the months leading up to the vote, several billboards and TV spots appeared with messaging on the issue. Why all the attention? The reasoning is:

  • It was a huge opportunity for the UAW to finally get a toe-hold into a “foreign” assembly plant.
  • The UAW was trying to grow its membersin into auto manufacturing – a place where their checkered history has been blamed on many automakers problems.
  • Public opinion on the role unions play in our society has been debated quite a bit as of late with the right to work movement gaining momentum.

All of these reasons lead to some elected officials in Tennessee to come out publicly against the UAW in Tennessee. A number of these officials decried a UAW victory as a loss for the state since they felt a strong union presence would have businessess rethinking investments. Some state officials went further to pledge that if the UAW passed, they would vote to withhold future incentives for the company.

Outside Influence

“We started to see some movement when the governor made his comments [indicating the union could hurt economic development],” Dennis Williams, secretary treasurer for the UAW, said after the vote. “Then Sen. (Bob) Corker who said he was not going to get involved came back [to Chattanooga] and had a press conference. We had a feeling that something was happening.”

This “outside” influence, it turns out, could allow the UAW to appeal the results on the grounds that the vote was tampered. The UAW claims that these outside groups “interfered with the basic legal right of workers to form a union.”

“What I hope the American public understands is that those people who attacked us were attacking labor-management cooperation. They don’t believe in workers and management working together. We believe in that. And we believe the workers here will ultimately prevail,” King said.

“It’s never happened in this country before that a U.S. senator, a governor, a leader of the House, a leader of the Legislature here, would threaten the company with no incentives, threaten workers with a loss of product. We think that’s outrageous,” King added. “We’ll look at all of our options in the next few days.”

Did the “outside” influence really impact the vote? The story says that:

“Some workers who voted no also cited the two-tier wage contracts at Detroit 3 factories and noted that some VW workers in Chattanooga make more than new U.S. hires at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler plants.”

Other workers singled out a clause in a UAW-VW neutrality agreement signed in January as part of the organizing drive. In the event of a union win, the clause called for “maintaining and where possible enhancing the cost advantages and other competitive advantages that [VW Chattanooga] enjoys relative to its competitors in the United States and North America.”

For some employees, that meant wages and benefits could be prevented from getting too high compared to other U.S. auto plants, including those operated by the unionized Detroit 3.

“The difference in the vote … was people hunting down the information to make an intelligence decision, not just listening to your buddy,” King said. “Of course, if you don’t win, you review your strategy.”

UAW’s Next Move

What’s next for the UAW? It is still fighting an uphill fight. Their membership has dwindled from 1.5 million in 1979 to about 400,000 today. This loss further hurts their chances to unionize many of the other “foreign” automaker plants that have sprouted up in the last several decades.

This loss also hurts King’s legacy as the head of the UAW. He vowed to work at building a more collaborative culture between the Union and automakers. King has conceded that the prior UAW tactics did contribute to the downfall in Detroit. His hope was to show a new side of the Union and re-build it. It was also a large test to see if the Union workers from GM, Ford and Chrysler could help influence another facility into accepting and supporting a union.

Ultimately, losing this vote is a BIG blow to the efforts of the UAW to rebuild its image and influence. While the UAW will continue to try to unionize factories like the Toyota Canada plants or the Nissan facility in Mississippi, this vote will sting and most likely hurt those efforts.

What do you think? Are the voting results what you expected? Does the UAW have grounds to appeal?

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Filed Under: Auto News


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  1. Randy says:

    The UAW is merely a tool and weapon of the liberal elitist designed to enslave the poor and steal from them; 712 of the workers understood that. The scary part 626 workers did not.

    If the UAW is successful in “unionizing” any plants in North America, then I can only hope and pray the companies do the right thing and close it down as fast as they can.

    Obviously the UAW feels the legal route is the path to take; after all we have already seen freedom and liberty stolen from us by the courts. And who owns the courts today? Yes it is those darn liberal elitist again. Even if the workers do not want to be unionized, the elitist will find a way to enslave them against their will.

    Are the voting results what I expected? Yes they are, very few Americans know what they are voting for.

    Does the UAW have grounds? No they do not. But they do own the courts, so they can win.

    • Larry says:


      I have to disagree with your basic premiss that the UAW is designed to enslave the poor. Their job is steel from the poor who are already out there and give part of it to their members. Only 1 out a thousand from the poor will be allowed to join once and a while. The task of any Union is to create a monopoly for labor and then close the door so no one else can join. If we were to make the the minimum wage 25 an hour all those working would then have a fair deal just like those in the Unions but, we all know the resulting price inflation would put us right back where we started. So it’s critical for unions to limit their membership. Just like politicians, union member can only prosper at the expense of others who must stay at the bottom of the pyramid and then pay what ever is demanded for the labor component of any product. When the poor can no longer pay, the game ends and we have ,——>DETROIT a union black hole, a dead star. Infinite union gravity from which no one can escape.

      Another key is to keep the members uneducated so the can’t do simple arithmetic. This allows them to point to management who makes million which keeps the heat away from themselves. If we add up the compensation of Ford management and divide it by all the UAW members at Ford, they wouldn’t get enough to buy lunch.

      When I got my last truck one of my requirements was that I could not be built by UAW labor. Do I have anything agains them? No, the reality is that they have something agains me. I do not have a pension, medical insurance etc which they have. I can’t pay for benefits for others when I don’t have them myself. I had one options a RAM made in Mexico. Tundra did not make a model which worked for me.

      If a monopoly electric company just raised the publics electric bill to 2000 a month people would riot but, when the UAW strikes and says pay us or else, if you don’t support them you are against the american worker. Here we are years later and they have priced themselves right out of existence. Like rats who have eaten all the seed crop they now must face their own distraction.

      Now lets see if the union management at Toyota, Subaru, Honda, BMW blow it. Will they run clean companies which will allow them to keep the UAW out forever or will they shoot themselves in the foot. Time will tell but the UAW is dead for now. The only people in the UAW who will prosper are the management. Sounds just like Ford or GM.

      • Randy says:


        I think we both said exactly the same thing and we agree. It is just my definition of poor is significantly more broad than yours. We are “all” becoming “more poor” as we lose more freedom’s and liberty.

        VW, the workers at the plant and American citizens in general are all better off without the UAW there. They just barely voted the “best way”, it was a close call. The UAW on the other hand wants to go to court so they can get the results they want….not what the workers want. All of us could lose a lot if that happens.

        One of the primary functions of the union is to keep them uneducated so they will continue to be enslaved.


        • Larry says:


          In the early days of industrial development I think we would both agree that company owners/management were out of control and needed the regulation imposed by unions. As the years passed the National Labor Relations board shifted monopoly powers from people like Rockefeller and J P Morgan to unions. Now the unions have reached their end. Seems the goal of many is total control and when they finally get it death is not far off. If only teachers unions would lose their grip.

          The US has been a socialist society for a while now. People don’t really want freedom and liberty all that much. That’s too much work, better to sit back and be taken care of but, by the time people figure out they were lied to it’s too late to recover.

          Places like Detroit need to completely go under before anything new can happen by the hand of people who will finally know they are all alone.

          The notion that I would let someone else bargain on my behalf is insane. It always has and always will be winner take all be it corporate or union management. One day people might figure out that it’s illogical to work at a place they really don’t want to be.

  2. Mike T says:

    “It’ll seem as if it’s just a continuing spiral of decline for the American labor movement,”.
    can you imagine?
    the most powerful and reputed unions cannot win a certification election under the most favorable conditions.”

  3. toyotadave says:

    I thought the unions only want to work for American companies. So why do they want into the foreign manufacturers so bad then??!!?? Because the union doesn’t give a damn about American companies. This just illustrates my point. If unions were truly patriotic, they would make massive concessions and veer far away from foreign entities. They (unions) only want the greenbacks.

  4. Larry says:

    There is nothing patriotic about union organizing, it’s only business and doing all that is possible to control the demand for labor and fix it’s price.

    As for foreign companies,,,,,,,,,, which company is more American, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler or Subaru? Just one hint, Subaru is an American Company headquartered in New Jersey. Question, who controls Chrysler? Dig in people, learn what is going on.

    All build cars all over the world, they get parts and sub assemblies from all over the world. These companies are independent and nothing binds them to any one country and that’s the way it should be. People in the US are running out of time to realized they are part of a global economy. Adapt or die.

    The national labor relations board helped to get laws in place which said you could not move a plant with the purpose of not bargaining with a union. So the answer was to close the plant, then build my Dodge Ram in Mexico, problem solved Detroit auto workers out of a job. What did the world market learn, stay out of Detroit and only tool up in right to work states. How stupid can the UAW management be?

    I don’t care where my truck is built or where the parts come from. I don’t car if the assembly workers are in a union or not. I only care about a quality truck at what is a reasonable price to me. I would like to know the workers can make a living from part of the price of the truck but, if not, and they can’t sell the trucks for whatever reason and I get a deal below cost of production that’s okay with me also. You can bet the auto workers would buy any product I build at my loss. Auto workers and management wouldn’t spend 1 minute thinking about me being unemployed for 10 years.

    Nothing is personal in all of this, it’s just business and business must select what is productive or we wind up with Detroit which helps no one.

    It might be possible for the UAW management to get thrown out and a new management team could possibly get things on track but, I doubt it.

  5. mk says:

    Unions are not what they use to be fighting for healthy and fair working conditions as in the 50’s thru 70’s when it was needed. Ever since the late 80’s Unions in certain places have drastically hurt the company they tried to protect and grow. Hint: GM and Chrysler – dah!

    My Dad worked 34 years at one of the oldest GM plants in North America from the 50’s to late 80’s and he even admitted when he retired that the Union at the end was doing more harm than good and he’d gladly pay a little more out of his paycheck for health insurance if it meant long term employment. Where else could you go on strike which he had done several times and get like 60-75% of your full pay for NOT working and be replaced by what they called scrubs to replace them on the assembly line for 1/2 the pay since non-union.

  6. Mickey says:

    Unions can have this lure to get you in, by then it’s too late to see what you done. Yes from 1977-82 I worked for Kaiser Aluminum and I think it was Local 13,000 United Steel Workers union. They did get the best benefits you could ever want. Blue Cross covered everything. The only out of pocket was doctors visit and after your $100 deductible you can claim the rest back. For dental we only had to pay 1/2 for braces. That lured me in to stay there and work. Also on your 5 year anniversary you got 10 weeks of vacation time with 13 weeks of pay. Things like what was mention is the reason why this union killed the workers there. I started out at $8 an hour and by 1981 I was at $12 an hour. In 82 Kaiser faced a troubled future and you can actually see what was happening if you had your eyes open. Kaiser built a new plant in Africa. Well then Kaiser asked the union for a pay reduction from $12 to $10 an hour due to natural gas price increase from .25 per cubic foot to 1.15 per cubic foot. Tenneco was losing big time under the contract. Well Union decided a meeting and at the meeting they voted for a strike. The president of the union was very vocal about it. Four of us voted not to go on strike. So I stood up and spoke my piece to the president and made sure everyone understood where I was going with this. First I mention the plant in Africa. Next I asked the president when we go on strike do you still get paid? He said yes. So while the rest of us doesn’t get paid you do. Then he wanted me to leave. I said I don’t mind leaving a bunch of idiots who are strangling themselves out of existence. Well the union presented Kaiser with their proposal and Kaiser said okay then there is no need to go on strike you can keep your pay but we have decided to close the plant down. Now 2,000 workers are going to be laid off. Great going union. I understood that in Africa they pay them $2 an hour which is more than they make in 5 years worth to our $12 an hour and they didn’t have to pay for insurance. Now look at the cost savings. Lucky for me when I got laid off I was at my 5 year mark and left with my 13 weeks pay for my 10 weeks of vacation. As mention before the unions are in it for themselves. The blinders they have on don’t let them see the whole picture.

  7. Larry says:


    Your history is a good example of the evolution which has occurred.

    My father was a non-union bricklayer 40 miles outside of Philadelphia. When work was short, union people would come out of the city and picket job sites they didn’t want when times were good. Back in the 60s, my father was hit by a brick thrown by a union person. He was just going to work.

    I started laying bricks back in 1970. Around $4 an hour. Every once and a while we would work on a federal building like a post office and because of the Davis Beacon Act we got bumped up to around $7 an hour for those jobs.

    What I learned being a brick layer was that we built homes which we could not afford to buy. We once worked on a building on a cold snowy day as I watched people inside where it was warm and dry having coffee in their meeting. That was the day I knew I was in the wrong place. I went back to college and became an electrical/software engineer for 25 years. Back in 2001 I saw all the jobs in my small office sent to India. At that time my hourly rate was almost $50 dollars an hour plus at least another 5 an hour in benefits plus stock. I knew it was coming since I learned Engineers in India were earning about 5 dollars an hour. So I saved every dime I made for years. It became a new kind of opportunity. Engineering, math, chemistry, physics etc are the same in every place on earth. So If I was running a company I too would pick the location where I could get the engineers I needed at 5 an hour as opposed to 50.

    You losing your job when Kaiser made changes was probably the best thing which could have happened to you.

    Low skilled union work environments are no place to be. These places are for young people to experience so they can find out where they don’t want to spend their life. Do software engineers need unions, no and those are better places to work.

    The unskilled American worker is now in a bad position. They are not smart enough to see that there really is no such thing as a minimum wage. Make it 100 dollars an hour, it won’t change a thing. Our pyramid has now grown as big as it will get and those at the bottom are going to be stuck there and part of their job will be to pull as many above down with them as they can.

    It looks like auto workers in right to work states have a positive situation in front of them for a few years to come. They do owe the unions of the past some recognition but, the unions of the past were a different kind of organization then the labor monopolies of today.

  8. Mickey says:

    Larry you are right. I started Kaiser at 18 years old. Laid off before I was 23 years old. I did do something with my life. At that timeframe you had several places including Kaiser shut down and with over 3,000 people looking for a job. So being young married with 2 kids I joined the Navy. Did 21 years and retired. My retirement pays my house note, my Harley and Solar Panels. So like you said I did improve myself and learned a trade but I don’t even use it. I work at a sub base in the paint shop of all things. I enjoy it for now and it pays pretty good. We do have a union to represent us but I’m not a active member. When I was in Indoc class no union rep came to class to even let us know about the union. It was a scheduled class but I see it they wasn’t worried about me so I’m not worried about helping them.

  9. mk says:

    One of the main problems union or non-union is the lazy workforce the past 10+ years, or more, that demand top dollar and don’t do a darn thing not even EARNING minimum wage.

    I can count on my hands and toes the ‘college’ grads that I have trained and they want more pay than what I was making after 5 years on the same job. They find out they won’t get it so move on and on and on and keep job hunting for that ‘dream’ job paying them 2-3 times what they are worth in the ‘real’ workforce.

    Unions will fight to keep those worthless workers around as well instead of firing them like they should have years ago.

  10. I’ve written an update to this post here:

    The long and short of it is that Volkswagen wanted the UAW to win. Since the UAW lost, Volkswagen has said they may block further expansion in Chattanooga and build a new plant elsewhere.

    So, basically, the conservative Tennessee politicians who promised “more jobs” when the UAW was defeated may have hurt their constituents.

    More to the point, how can you be a conservative and believe in interfering in business?

    I’ve closed comments on this post so the conversation can move to the new post Iv’e written.

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