UWA sustains blow as Chattanooga’s VW workers reject union by 86 votes

Volkswagen’s Chattanooga employees have spurned the United Auto Workers, rejecting two years of wooing by the Detroit-based union in a vote of 712 to 626, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Chattanooga's Volkswagen workers will now negotiate with management through a workers' council.

Chattanooga’s Volkswagen workers will now negotiate with management through a works council.

The vote count came late Friday after three days of balloting by VW workers in the National Labor Relations Board-supervised election. Some experts said the result is a blow to the UAW and that the VW plant was its best chance to organize a foreign-owned auto factory in the South.

Jack Nerad, executive market analyst of Kelley Blue Book, told the Times Free Press UAW put a lot of work into trying to organize VW’s Chattanooga operation. He termed it “a publicity setback for certain,” the newspaper said.

Volkswagen’s management in Germany and in the United States sought to stay neutral throughout the unionizing campaign, though in recent days it criticized what it said was interference by Tennessee Gov.  Bill Haslam, U.S. Bob Corker of Tennessee and conservative activist Grover Norquist through attempts to sway workers away from backing unionization.

Frank Fischer, CEO & chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said late Friday Volkswagen “will respect the decision of the majority.”

“Our employees have not made a decision that they are against a works council. Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant,” Fischer noted. “Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America’s production needs and serve our employees’ interests. ”

VW actually credits the works council system with making it the largest and richest auto firm in the world, wrote Time’s Rana Foroohar in her  “The Curious Capitalist” column Friday.

The works council may be just the tonic needed at Chattanooga’s VW plant,  Foroohar wrote after interviewing workers there. “The workers I’ve spoken with in Chattanooga say they are less interested in pay hikes than in having some say over which cars get made in the factory, what sorts of training programs they’ll have access to, etc,” she reported.

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