UAW Hopes “If We Build It, They Will Join” When Opening Chattanooga Local 42

The United Autoworkers Union lost a close, extremely important election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee a few months ago. Had the UAW won, its victory would have marked the first time a union represents employees of an auto manufacturer in the southern United States. Riding the momentum from the close election, the UAW opened Local 42 and is encouraging VW workers to voluntarily join the UAW. If successful, the UAW will seek to effectively sidestep the NLRB sanctioned secret ballot election process and represent the workers via card check.

“We’ve had ongoing discussions with Volkswagen and have arrived at a consensus with the company,” Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, said in a statement about the union’s latest move. “Upon Local 42 signing up a meaningful portion of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga workforce, we’re confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with it as a members’ union that represents those employees who join the local.”

Volkswagen and the UAW have partnered in trying to get VW workers to join the union. The two entered into a neutrality agreement and the UAW tried to organize Chattanooga VW workers via card check in the past, but failed to gain a majority of workers’ signatures; some workers even filed charges with the NLRB accusing the union of using misleading and bullying tactics to gain a majority of the workers’ signatures. The UAW then consented to a secret ballot election, and lost that, too despite VW giving the union unfettered access to its facilities and employees for the union to campaign in favor of unionization.

This third attempt may result in the VW workers finally getting a union. Workers joining Local 42 will receive many of the benefits of belonging to a union but won’t suffer any of the detriments. They will also be given the opportunity to get comfortable with unionization and view the union as partner instead of a bunch of people from Detroit who are going to change their company. Employees won’t pay dues, won’t be restricted by seniority, won’t be prohibited from dealing directly with their supervisors, but they will receive UAW clothing, invites to picnics, and reduced cost tickets to amusement parks and sporting events. VW could also extend Weingarten rights to workers and allow the union to accompany workers during disciplinary investigation meetings. VW workers who want to participate in these perks will need to sign an authorization card, and with enough signatures, the UAW will represent all workers at VW through card check – at which time the detriments of unionization will kick in.