Jockeying ramps up as Volkswagen Chattanooga union vote set for next month

Billy Quigg, a VW Chattanooga employee, speaks during a rally for working families, laborers and community leaders held by Chattanooga Area Labor Council Monday, May 20, 2019 at Miller Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Quigg said that Volkswagen is trying to deny the legal rights of its employees.

A new union election is set for June 12-14 for Volkswagen production and skilled trades workers in Chattanooga, giving plant employees, the union, VW and others two weeks to make their cases.

Brian Rothenberg of UAW International said Chattanooga workers in the face of "legal obstruction and anti-worker activity" will now have the opportunity to vote on a union.

"Chattanooga workers remain the only VW workers in the world without union representation," he said.

Maury Nicely, a lawyer for the anti-United Auto Workers group Southern Momentum, said workers are glad that the date is now set.

"We're confident," he said, adding that workers should "get all the information they can."

photo Maury Nicely

In April, the UAW sought a new election from the National Labor Relations Board at VW Chattanooga. The vote will be the third at the plant since 2014.

Volkswagen Group of America said in a statement that it has heard the concerns workers have raised in "an open dialogue" and it has responded with improvements in working conditions. It has adjusted shift work, reduced overtime to have more predictability and raised wages, the company said.

"We want to continue that open dialogue also in the future. We believe that we can achieve more for the company and our workers by continuing that open dialogue as we have done successfully so far," the statement said. "Nevertheless, we respect our workers' right to decide on representation. As a company, and as colleagues, we will respect the decision of our team."

About 1,790 employees inside the German automaker's plant in Chattanooga are considered within the unit that will be permitted to vote by the National Labor Relations Board.

The UAW lost the 2014 vote by a margin of 712 to 626. In 2015, a smaller group of maintenance workers won a union vote at the plant by 108-44. But no contract was negotiated with VW because the company said it wanted a vote of all production workers about union representation.

Volkswagen-UAW tensions

Southern Momentum released radio and television advertisements that began airing in Chattanooga on Wednesday. The release of the advertisements follow the first in a series of worker testimonial videos released on Tuesday by Southern Momentum.

CB Bitton, a team leader at the plant, said that while the Detroit-based UAW "and its cronies have been working for more than five years to organize our facility, over the span of a few weeks, we have been able to build a significant coalition of workers inside the plant to push back on the false attacks and intimidation by the UAW."

"We are proud to fight for the future of the plant and for the livelihoods of our families," he said. "Without Volkswagen, many of us would either be out of work or at a job with less pay and fewer benefits. It is important this facility thrive, and we can't take a chance on our future by allowing the UAW – with its long track record of broken promises, lost jobs, and closed plants – to come into our factory. It is time to send a strong message and reject the UAW yet again."

At the same time, the UAW is airing a TV spot also featuring workers stating their case. A 60-second spot that began airing earlier this month in a $25,000 ad buy features six VW workers saying "it's time" for a vote.

The spot ends with a worker saying that "it's time to put Chattanooga workers first."

Volkswagen said in its statement that it plans to invest more than $800 million in the future to make electric vehicles at the Chattanooga plant while adding 1,000 jobs.

"We want to continue building on our strong and successful 10-year relationship in Tennessee," the company said. "Given the challenges the industry is facing, a motivated and skilled workforce is a key pillar for the success or our company. The basis for this is good working conditions for our employees."

Last month after waiting more than three years for the courts and NLRB to decide on the validity of the union for the maintenance workers, the UAW disclaimed the 2015 election. The UAW sought NLRB action to revoke the unit so a new election of all maintenance and production workers could take place.

The approved election dates were those proposed by the UAW last week after it filed a new petition for a union vote at the plant following the NLRB's dismissal of the union's earlier request for a vote in late April.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.