Volkswagen's Chattanooga employees have spurned the United Auto Workers, rejecting two years of wooing by the Detroit-based union in a 712 to 626 vote.
The vote count came late Friday after three days of balloting by VW workers in the National Labor Relations Board-supervised election. Some experts said the result is a blow to the UAW and that the VW plant was its best chance to organize a foreign-owned auto factory in the South.
UAW President Bob King said he was "deeply disappointed" by the outcome, but insisted that the union will regroup and consider its options, which may include a challenge to the results because of what he said was interference by Tennessee Republicans.
"To lose by such a close margin is very, very difficult," King said. "We're also outraged by the outside interference in this election. Never before in this country have we seen a U.S. senator, a governor and a leader of the Legislature threaten the company with incentives and threaten workers with a loss of product. That's outrageous."
Jack Nerad, executive market analyst of Kelley Blue Book, said UAW put a lot of work into trying to organize VW's Chattanooga operation. He termed it "a publicity setback for certain."
VW employee Mike Burton, who helped lead a petition drive against the UAW and set up a "no2uaw" website, said he's grateful.
"I didn't let the majority down," he said.
Burton took the UAW to task for saying earlier that it had collected a majority of workers' signatures on cards supporting the union.
Shannon Fossett, a VW employee who supported the UAW, said workers expected opposition but were surprised at the degree and intensity.
"The biggest surprise was the reaction of local politicians," he said, noting that a number of Chattanooga Republicans came out this week in opposition to the unionization effort.
While officially neutral, VW early on had entered into talks with UAW officials and filed the NLRB petition to have the election.
Its German leadership had said they were interested in setting up a works council labor board at the Chattanooga plant.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said this has always been a decision for VW and its employees.
"Now that their decision is made, let's focus on what matters most to our community - bringing more living wage, middle class jobs to Chattanooga," he said.
Contact staff writer Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.