Volkswagen Workers in Tennessee Join UAW in Historic Vote

Nearly three-quarters of votes were in favor of joining the union.


Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga, TN, have overwhelmingly voted to join the United Auto Workers (UAW), making them the first U.S. autoworkers outside of the Big Three to successfully unionize.

The election, held April 17-19, saw more than 3,600 votes cast. Of those, 73% were in favor of joining the UAW.

This election is big,” said Kelcey Smith, a worker in the paint department at Volkswagen. “People in high places told us good things can’t happen here in Chattanooga. They told us this isn’t the time to stand up, this isn’t the place. But we did stand up and we won. This is the time; this is the place. Southern workers are ready to stand up and win a better life.”

“We saw the big contract that UAW workers won at the Big Three and that got everybody talking,” said Zachary Costello, a trainer in VW’s proficiency room. “You see the pay, the benefits, the rights UAW members have on the job, and you see how that would change your life. That’s why we voted overwhelmingly for the union. Once people see the difference a union makes, there’s no way to stop them.”

“This is a movement for every blue-collar worker in America,” said Doug Snyder, a body worker at Volkswagen. “Our vote shows that workers everywhere want a better life on and off the job. Fair pay is important, but so is time with our families. So is a voice for safety in our plant. We’re looking forward to getting to the bargaining table with the company and winning a contract that makes things right at Volkswagen.”

The move to unionize at Volkswagen Chattanooga comes amid a broader wave of union activities across the South, where more than 10,000 non-union autoworkers have signed union cards in recent months, spurred by the Stand Up Strike victory at the Big Three -- GM, Ford and Chrysler. Public campaigns have been launched at major auto companies including Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Toyota.

As Chattanooga workers celebrate their victory, attention turns to the upcoming second union vote, at Mercedes-Benz in Vance, AL, scheduled for May 13-17.

On April 16 -- the day before the election began at the Volkswagen plant -- six Republican governors from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas publicly condemned the UAW's efforts to unionize auto plants in their states, arguing the UAW's presence could disrupt their local economies and align too closely with political interests, particularly noting the union's support for President Joe Biden's reelection.

"As governors, we have a responsibility to our constituents to speak up when we see special interests looking to come into our state and threaten our jobs and the values we live by," the statement said.

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