By Elvina Nawaguna and Bernie Woodall
WASHINGTON/DETROIT Feb 3 A historic,
far-reaching vote of blue-collar workers at Volkswagen AG's
Tennessee plant on whether they wish to be
represented by the United Auto Workers will be held Feb. 12-14,
the German automaker and U.S. union said on Monday.
The secret-ballot election will be conducted by the National
Labor Relations Board, VW said.
"A vote at Volkswagen, whatever the outcome, will send
reverberations throughout the Southern auto industry," Dennis
Cuneo, a managing partner of pro-management law firm Fisher &
Phillips, said in an email.
The UAW has also been attempting to represent workers at
Nissan Motor Co plants in Mississippi and Tennessee,
and at a Daimler AG Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama.
In a bid to survive as membership dwindles among workers at
U.S. automakers, the union has been trying to enlist employees
at foreign automakers, who are largely based in the U.S. South,
where anti-union sentiment runs high. Success at Volkswagen may
bode well for the UAW's efforts at the other auto companies.
About 1,550 blue-collar workers at the Chattanooga,
Tennessee plant will vote on whether the UAW should represent
them in wage and benefit talks, said a UAW official.
The vote will the first at a major foreign automaker's
assembly plant for the UAW since its failed attempt to gain the
right to represent Nissan workers in Smyrna, Tennessee in 2001.
The union lost that vote by a 2-to-1 margin.
The UAW and Volkswagen also want to establish a
German-styled works council at the plant, which will represent
both blue- and white-collar workers on issues not related to
wages and benefits. VW officials vowed not to influence the
vote, something the union accused Nissan of doing in 2001.
A works council at VW aligned with a union would be a first
in the United States, labor observers have said.
Chattanooga is the only Volkswagen plant outside of China
that lacks a works council.
"Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all
third parties to honor the principle of neutrality," said Frank
Fischer, chief executive of the Chattanooga plant.
Still, some VW officials in the United States have privately
said they do not want the UAW at the Chattanooga plant.
UAW President Bob King, in a speech in Washington on Monday,
said the union had considered certification by VW without a
vote, but he said "right-wing" attacks kept them from doing so.
"These forces against us are more aggressive and bolder than
ever in our history," King said.
Mark Mix, president of the National Right To Work
Foundation, said the UAW was hoping to avoid an election, which
he said would have taken a basic right away from the workers.
"A secret-ballot election is what Foundation-assisted
workers were asking for all along," said Mix in an email to
Mix was also concerned about the existence of "backroom
deals" between the UAW and Volkswagen.
On Monday, the president of the VW Global Works Council,
Bernd Osterloh, who is also an member of VW's German union IG
Metall, called on Chattanooga plant workers to consider take an
objective view of the UAW.
"Don't believe hearsay," said Osterloh to plant workers, in
a press statement. "Use the opportunity to look at the UAW for
yourselves and to decide if they should represent you or not."
In the past, the UAW has complained that companies like
Nissan allow company officials to bad-mouth the union but do not
allow the union to speak directly to plant workers. Mike Burton,
leader of a group of anti-UAW workers at Chattanooga, said his
group is being muffled at Chattanooga.
"There are going to be two team meetings of 500 to 600
workers each and we won't even be able to take the podium for
equal time. That's wrong," said Burton.
UAW membership has fallen steadily since reaching a peak of
nearly 1.5 million in 1979 to almost 400,000 in 2012, due to
automation at assembly plants and a declining share of the U.S.
auto market for U.S. automakers General Motors Co, Ford
Motor Co and Chrysler Group, a unit of Fiat Chrysler
Outside of union membership at a Mitsubishi Motors Corp
plant in the Midwest, nearly all UAW members at
automakers are from GM, Ford and Chrysler.
King and the UAW have been attempting to organize the VW
plant for more than two years, and believe they have support of
a majority of the workers at Chattanooga. But the UAW also was
convinced in 2001 that it would win the election among Nissan
voters at Smyrna.