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Brian Rothenberg, United Auto Workers spokesman, speaks with the media after unionization fails for workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant during a press conference at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Friday, June 14, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Unionization failed with 833 against to 776 for representation.

Updated at 10:46 p.m. on Friday, June 14, 2019, with more information.

The United Auto Workers on Friday lost another vote of blue-collar workers at Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant as anti-union employees fought off a fierce bid to organize the factory.

The vote, 833 against the union to 776 for the UAW, was closer than the 2014 effort but still fell short.

Some 51.8% of workers voted against the union, while 48.2% supported the UAW. In the 2014 election, the margin was 53.2% against the union and 46.8% for the UAW.

Anti-union workers had said they didn't need the Detroit-based UAW to speak for them when they already have a voice at the plant. They criticized the UAW for the ongoing federal corruption probe of the union in Michigan and for what they felt were unfair attacks by the UAW and its supporters against the automaker.

Volkswagen-UAW tensions

Mary Morrison, an eight-year employee in quality control, said the union simply wasn't needed and that "I don't want it in the door."

Pro-union VW workers had eyed the opportunity to bargain with the company over issues such as health and safety, working conditions, paid time off, and the bolstering of retirement plans.

The result comes after an onslaught of TV, radio, print and digital advertising that flooded the area over the past few weeks. The array of ads sought to gain the support of the some 1,700 VW production and skilled trades workers eligible to vote in the election.

Some 93% of the eligible employees voted during the election, according to VW. A total of 1,609 votes were cast during the three-day voting period from Wednesday through Friday.

Frank Fischer, president and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said the employees have spoken.

"Pending certification of the results by the National Labor Relations Board and a legal review of the election, Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority," said Fischer. "We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with elected officials and business leaders in Tennessee."

After the vote, the UAW challenged the process of trying to form a union at the auto plant, calling on Congress to take a comprehensive look at the country's labor laws and National Labor Relations Board rules.

"Clearly Volkswagen was able to delay bargaining with maintenance [workers] and ultimately this vote among all production and maintenance workers through legal games until they could undermine the vote," said Brian Rothenberg, a UAW International spokesman.

By law, VW workers will have to wait one year before deciding next steps.

The Chattanooga VW plant assembles the Passat midsize sedan and Atlas SUV, employing about 3,500 people. This week's vote was the third union election in five years at the factory.

In 2014, the UAW lost an election by a margin of 712-626. About a year later, a smaller group of just maintenance workers approved the union by a vote of 108-44.

But the company refused to bargain with the unit, saying it wanted a vote of all production and maintenance workers. Last month, the union disavowed the smaller group and the NLRB approved the union's petition for the new election.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee had said he planned to "take what happens and move forward. I mean, we'll take the situation we have and work forward to make sure that Volkswagen remains an important piece of who we are and that force is developed in a way that helps them to continue to expand."

Some Hamilton County state legislators had said that a union win would make it harder to gain approval of future incentive packages for VW.

According to the NLRB, any party may file objections to the conduct of the election or to behavior affecting the results within seven days.

Chattanooga labor attorney Dan Gilmore noted that in 2014, the UAW had objected to comments made by then-U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and former Gov. Bill Haslam.

Volkswagen said during this year's campaign that it would remain "neutral," adding that it could "achieve more for the company and its team by continuing an open dialogue as we have done successfully so far."

The union has been trying to reverse decades of attrition within its ranks. The UAW has only about a fourth of the membership it had in 1979 when the UAW had more than 1.5 million members.

Last year, the UAW lost more than 35,000 members, a 9 percent decrease, the Detroit News said, citing documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The union said in the filing it had 395,703 members in 2018, down from 430,871 it had in 2017. Last year was the first time in nine years the union shrank its membership since its ranks reached a low of 355,191 in 2009 during the depths of the Great Recession.

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

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story erroneously reported the number of votes against the union as 863 and the amount of workers at the plant as 1,659. Those numbers have been corrected to 833 and 1,609, respectively.

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