Volkswagen workers reject union at Tennessee plant

By Paresh Dave

Los Angeles Times

Volkswagen workers in Tennessee narrowly voted to reject joining a union, crushing the United Automobile Workers union's attempt to unionize a foreign-owned car factory for the first time, officials announced late Friday.

The 712-626 vote (53%-47%) against unionization at the German automaker’s three-year-old factory in Chattanooga is a setback for UAW because labor experts had thought Volkswagen gave the union its best shot of setting a precedent to make inroads with transplants such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Nissan.

"It would have been a confidence booster, a relevance factor and message saying that we’re growing and doing things people didn’t think we could," said Art Wheaton, director of The Worker Institute at Cornell University.

The UAW is almost certain to challenge the vote with the National Labor Relations Board because of potentially influencing comments made by Republican lawmakers and anti-union groups in recent days. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., suggested that Volkswagen would reward Tennessee by bringing production of a new car to the factory if voters rejected forming a union. The automaker denied the claim. About 165 workers, or 11%, didn't vote.

Volkswagen said it stayed neutral through the process, even welcoming UAW representatives to speak to employees inside the factory.

"Whatever the result, workers and Volkswagen should feel proud of how they conducted themselves," the UAW said on Twitter as votes were being counted Friday night.

The union also said the "outside interference was an outrage."

Like many European automakers, Volkswagen has long worked with unions at home through a system known as works councils.