Volkswagen Chattanooga says workers already have a voice

Automaker won’t recognize union without full employee input

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Vehicles come off the Volkswagen Chattanooga assembly line during the launch celebration for the initial ID.4 electric SUVs made at the plant in 2022.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Vehicles come off the Volkswagen Chattanooga assembly line during the launch celebration for the initial ID.4 electric SUVs made at the plant in 2022.

Volkswagen Chattanooga is aiming for its workers to vote on unionizing the factory should the current organizing activity reach that point, the automaker said Thursday.

While the United Auto Workers could ask the company to voluntarily recognize the union after meeting a threshold of signed authorization cards, a Volkswagen official said "we think it's our responsibility" workers have the chance to vote.

The statement came during a media briefing about the organizing issue and the soon-to-launch 2024 ID.4 electric SUV, which is built at the Chattanooga assembly plant.

Michael W. Lowder, a Volkswagen Group of America spokesperson, said after the briefing officials believe in the right of workers to decide on representation.

According to the UAW, more than 50% of Volkswagen Chattanooga employees have signed union authorization cards.

The plant employs about 5,500 people, with about 4,100 eligible for the union, according to Volkswagen.

(READ MORE: Tennessee is fastest growing state for unions)

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.

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.

Gary Swafford, a Volkswagen Chattanooga worker in the paint department, said in a statement that though the company says it's neutral, actions speak louder than words.

"The reality is that Volkswagen does not want VW Chattanooga workers to have a real say over our working conditions and our livelihoods," he said. 'The company has a long track record of opposing workers' efforts to secure a stable future for ourselves. Myself and a majority of my co-workers have already signed our union cards. We look forward to casting our vote for our union and winning a better life for ourselves and our families."

At the Volkswagen briefing, the company said workers have a voice at the plant through "roundtable meetings" and other processes at the factory. Safety and other issues are addressed, the company said.

The automaker said during the UAW's organizing effort, Volkswagen will address what it termed "misinformation" and provide answers.

"We see things on social media," the company said. "We want to get information out -- facts and numbers."

Volkswagen late last year said it was providing an 11% pay raise for production workers, beginning in December. Starting wages at the plant are now $23.42 an hour, rising to a maximum of $32.40, the company said.

(READ MORE: Volkswagen Chattanooga workers get 11% raise)

It also offered a compressed wage progression, meaning employees can go from starting wages to topped out wages in a shorter timeline, according to the automaker.

Volkswagen said at the briefing that while inflation has risen 31% since 2013, the automaker has boosted wages 56%.

"We value our employees," the company said. "We think they're well paid."

UAW President Shawn Fain said in December in Chattanooga that another vote by employees to align with the union 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.

Fain said Volkswagen has unions at plants across the world but not in Chattanooga.

"It's a testament to the fact they want to exploit workers in one location," he said.

According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, UAW officials could try to impose union representation on employees through the so-called "card check" process and bypass the National Labor Relations Board's traditional secret ballot vote procedure.

In theory, a company can insist on a secret ballot vote under relatively new NLRB policy by rushing a vote request to the agency, but doing so doesn't mean that the board will conduct an election, the foundation said in a statement.

Union friendly NLRB members can use an allegation against the company for skipping a secret ballot election entirely or later overturning a vote that goes against the UAW, the foundation said.

The UAW has accused the company of union-busting actions in complaints to the board, which VW has denied.

According to the foundation, it doesn't matter if the UAW's allegations against the company are minor or if the board changes precedent to make actions that were legal when they happened new violations of board rules. Any finding by the National Labor Relations Board for the UAW could mean VW team members never get a chance to vote like they had in 2014 and 2019, the foundation said.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.

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