published Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Anti-, pro-UAW workers predict Chattanooga Volkswagen win

Factory workers perform diagnostics on a Passat in the assembly section of the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant in this file photo.
Factory workers perform diagnostics on a Passat in the assembly section of the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant in this file photo.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
Agreement for representation election
Agreement for representation election

A group of Volkswagen employees against the United Auto Workers efforts to organize the Chattanooga plant said Friday they're predicting a close vote -- and a win -- in next week's secret ballot election.

"If we'd had some access, we'd be able to get our message to people" in a better way, said VW worker Mike Jarvis, one of eight plant employees who met with reporters.

However, the workers believe their side will still prevail in the three-day election which starts Wednesday at the factory.

"I think it will be close, closer than I want it to be," said Greg Poteet, another employee. "People need to educate themselves."

At the same time, UAW supporters, too, have said they think their side will win when the ballots are all in and counted next Friday.

"I'm pretty confident about this," said Lon Gravett, who supports the UAW initiative.

He noted the company and the UAW have signed a neutrality agreement.

"In most instances in the South, when someone wants to unionize, it's always a head-on collision between the union and the company," Gravett said.

VW filed a petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday. More than 1,500 VW workers are slated to cast a ballot to decide if they want the UAW to represent them.

The automaker has said it was in talks with the UAW about the set up of a German-style labor board. The company has such boards, which oversee daily plant issues such as worker training, safety and hours, at nearly all its major plants worldwide. But VW has said that a union is needed to establish a works council under U.S. labor law.

The anti-UAW group complained that VW isn't being neutral but supportive of the UAW. They cite the access the union is being afforded to other workers. Meanwhile, the anti-UAW workers said, the company has refused to let them talk to other employees in groups.

"We could educate people," said Jarvis. Instead, he said, their "hands are tied."

Some of the anti-UAW employees said they think there are quite a few workers who are undecided. They also said that the tension inside the plant is high.

"You've got two different sides," worker Shawn Foote said. "It's divisive."

Travis Finnell, who doesn't support the UAW, said that if the union does win, each individual worker has to decide for themselves whether they'll join. Since Tennessee is a right-to-work state, a worker can't be compelled to sign up.

"You've got to put your money where your mouth is," Finnell said, noting that UAW members are required to pay dues.

Employee Sean Moss said having to pay dues is a factor for him not joining.

"Times are tough," he said. "The economy is tough."

Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director, said he hasn't heard any employees "dogging the company."

"They talk about the need for representation and then close with the statement 'We make a great car and it's a good place to work."' Casteel said. "They believe in the company and the product. I don't see a disgruntled workforce."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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