Anti-United Auto Workers group forms ahead of possible Chattanooga Volkswagen plant election

Volkswagen employees work around vehicles moving down the assembly line at the Volkswagen Assembly Plant Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Volkswagen employees work around vehicles moving down the assembly line at the Volkswagen Assembly Plant Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A group of Volkswagen workers have revived a grassroots organization to defeat the United Auto Workers' most recent effort to unionize the Chattanooga assembly plant.

Called Southern Momentum, the group's workers also began distributing information inside the plant to push back on what it called disinformation disseminated by the UAW.

"The UAW is promising the sun, moon and stars but their track record shows that many of the plants they represent go out of business, particularly foreign-owned companies," said Keri Menendez, a team leader at the facility. "We do not want them here and are working to educate our fellow employees on the real UAW, not the false narrative the union is peddling."

Brian Rothenberg of the UAW International countered by saying that a lot of Chattanooga VW workers who are colleagues of the Southern Momentum group realize they're the only Volkswagen plant employees worldwide without bargaining rights.

"Why wouldn't these workers want to have the same rights as every other VW worker in the world?" he asked. "Why wouldn't they want the same rights as [the General Motors plant] in Spring Hill?"

Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga lawyer for Evans Harrison Hackett who represented Southern Momentum during an election at the plant in 2014, said VW workers have been "steadfast in opposing a takeover by the Detroit-based UAW since 2014."

"It is no surprise they feel the same way now, and I am happy to help them in any way I can," he said. "The UAW and its track record of corruption and discord was a bad fit for Chattanooga and Volkswagen in 2014 and it is a bad fit now."

Southern Momentum formed ahead of the 2014 election at VW, which the UAW lost by a vote of 712 to 626. A year later, a smaller group won a union election 108-44.

Earlier this month, some workers at the VW factory petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to align with the UAW. The NLRB is considering the petition.

Nicely said an election at the VW plant is different from the one in 2014 because the automaker is approaching it differently. VW has said it will remain "neutral" and continue an open dialogue. But company officials said in a letter to employees that "we believe we can achieve more for us all by continuing that open dialogue directly." Also, a VW lawyer is attempting to strike down the request for a new union vote in a legal brief to the NLRB.

When it comes to the funding of Southern Momentum, business interests did much of that in 2014. This time around, Nicely said he's not sure there needs to be a lot of funding due to the company's position.

In addition to Southern Momentum fighting the unionization attempt, a Washington, D.C., interest group, the Center for Union Facts, has taken out a newspaper ad and put up billboards about plant closures at UAW facilities. "Is this What 'Forever' Looks Like?" the ad reads.

Rothenberg said all the Detroit 3 automakers, which are represented by the UAW, are adding jobs in Michigan, and GM is doing the same at the Spring Hill plant in Tennessee.

He said that "it's really about Chattanooga workers and the difference between having to sit down and make suggestions or having the right to bargain for things like advance notice to have child care for your kids or not having wait to get 50-cent wage increase."

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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