More than 50% of Volkswagen Chattanooga employees have signed union authorization cards, the United Auto Workers said Tuesday.
The union said in a statement the milestone marks the first non-union auto plant to publicly announce majority support among the dozens of auto facilities where workers have begun organizing in recent months.
In mid-January, the union said it had increased to more than 2,000 the number of union cards signed by VW workers in Chattanooga.
The plant employs about 5,500 people, with about 4,100 reportedly eligible for the union, according to Volkswagen.
According to the UAW, Tuesday's announcement at Volkswagen Chattanooga comes less than 60 days after thousands of autoworkers at other nonunion plants launched simultaneous efforts to join the UAW, and VW workers have become the first to reach the 50% milestone.
Shawn Fain, the UAW's president, said in Chattanooga outside the VW plant in December that another vote by employees to align with the UAW was up to workers and how fast they sign more cards.
"At 70% we'll start pushing for a vote," he said at the time.
The UAW lost earlier close votes to unionize the VW workers in 2014 and 2019 at the plant that builds the Atlas, Atlas Cross Sport and ID.4 SUVs.
But according to the National Labor Relations Board, an employer such as Volkswagen can voluntarily recognize a union without an election, typically based on a majority of signed authorization cards.
A Volkswagen Group of America spokesperson declined to comment on that point in a phone call Tuesday.
Spokesperson Michael W. Lowder said the company respects its workers' right to decide the question of union representation.
"And we remain committed to providing accurate information that helps inform them of their rights and choices," he said in a statement.
Fain said in a Facebook Live message in January that if non-union autoworkers had standards of the Big Three — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis — they'd bring home thousands of more dollars than they are today.
Autoworkers at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama, and at Hyundai in Montgomery, Alabama, have also announced public campaigns after reaching 30%.
"The excitement has been building, and now that we have reached 50%, it is just continuing to grow. New organizers are joining each day spreading our effort to every area of the plant," Zach Costello, a Volkswagen worker, said in a statement. "Just because we are in the South, it does not mean that our work is worth less, that our benefits should be diminished or that we don't have rights."
Since announcing in early December that more than 1,000 plant workers had signed the cards in an organizing campaign in Chattanooga, more than 1,000 additional employees joined in, the UAW said.
Lowder said earlier the company is proud of the world-class manufacturing facility created in Chattanooga and the employees who make it run.
"We are committed to investing in America, in our community and, most importantly, in our employees — who have a strong voice in their workplace," he said in an email.
Lowder said VW also is committed to providing "clear, transparent and timely information that helps inform our employees and managers on their legal rights and obligations, which is especially important in an atmosphere of deliberate misinformation."
Volkswagen has denied claims of union-busting, intimidation or illegal violations of worker rights at the Chattanooga plant.