Volkswagen workers in Tennessee vote no to union representation
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[February 15, 2014]
By Bernie Woodall
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee (Reuters) — In a
stunning defeat that could accelerate the decades-long decline of
the United Auto Workers, employees voted against union
representation at Volkswagen AG's Chattanooga, Tennessee plant,
which had been seen as organized labor's best chance to expand in
the U.S. South.
An official overseeing the vote, retired Tennessee Circuit Court
Judge Sam Payne, said that a majority had voted against UAW
representation by 712 to 626. Some 89 percent of workers voted, he
The plant's workers voted by paper ballot over the past three days,
with individual votes hand-counted after the election closed at 8:30
pm ET on Friday.
The loss could further dent the prestige of the UAW, whose
membership has plummeted 75 percent since 1979 and now stands at
just under 400,000.
It also is likely to reinforce the widely held notion that the UAW
cannot make significant inroads in a region that historically has
been steadfastly against organized labor and where all foreign-owned
assembly plants employ nonunion workers.
The vote faced fierce resistance from local Republican politicians
and national conservative groups who warned that a UAW victory could
hurt economic growth in Tennessee. While voting was under way on
Wednesday, Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker said VW would announce
new investment in the plant if the UAW lost the secret ballot.
"We think it's unfortunate that there was some outside influence
exerted into this process," Gary Casteel, regional director of the
UAW, said after the results were announced, adding that the
influence needed to be "evaluated".
Legal experts earlier in the day said they saw a difficult path to
challenging a vote against unionization, based on Corker's comments,
given broad free speech protection for U.S. Senators.
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President Barack Obama waded into the discussion on Friday, accusing
Republican politicians who oppose unionization of being more
concerned about German shareholders than U.S. workers.
For VW, the stakes also were high. The German automaker invested $1
billion in the Chattanooga plant, which began building Passat
mid-size sedans in April 2011, after being awarded more than $577
million in state and local incentives.
VW executives have said a new seven-passenger crossover vehicle, due
in 2016 and known internally as CrossBlue, could be built at either
the Chattanooga plant or in Mexico.
An announcement on where the vehicle will be produced could come as
early as next week, VW sources said.
(Additional reporting by Paul Lienert in
Detroit and Andreas Cremer in Berlin; editing by Matthew Lewis, Ross
Colvin and Ken Wills)
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