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UAW president comes to Chattanooga as union files more complaints against VW

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain came to Chattanooga on Saturday to visit and plot strategy with Vo

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain came to Chattanooga on Saturday to visit and plot strategy with Volkswagen workers trying to unionize the company’s only U.S. assembly plant.


“Martin Luther King says, ‘I have a dream,’ and we got a dream, and we’re going to get this (the union),” Renee Berry, a VW employee who has been with the company for almost 14 years, said after the meeting, which was closed to the media.


The meeting unfolded at the Chattanooga office of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.


Aside from a single parked truck displaying an anti-Fain advertisement, no union opponents appeared present. Those leaving the meeting expressed excitement about the unionization effort.


“I saw some faces in there that I wouldn’t have otherwise expected to see here, so it was encouraging to me, and now they’re going to go back to work and keep talking to fellow co-workers and, hopefully, keep perpetuating the motion,” said Isaac Meadows, a UAW volunteer organizing committee member who has worked at VW for about a year.


Meadows, who spoke to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in an interview after the meeting, said it was good of Fain, who has gained national attention since working with the UAW to secure a record agreement with the Big Three automakers in Detroit, to come to Chattanooga and talk to workers directly.


“Like he (Fain) said, he’s not the one that’s going to win this fight for us; he’s merely a figurehead giving us support, but at the end of the day, we’re the ones doing the fighting, so I think it was good for them (workers) to hear that,” Meadows said.


The union billed the meeting as a “strategy” session with VW employees to organize the local plant and came just after the UAW last week filed three more complaints with the National Labor Relations Board charging unfair labor practices against Volkswagen Group of America, bringing the number to eight since mid-December.


The union alleges VW has improperly made coercive statements, including threats and promises of benefits, and concerted activities of retaliation, discharge or discipline to try to undermine support for the union.


“VW management is trying to intimidate us and does not want us to have a union,” Robert Atkins, a Volkswagen worker in the paint department, said in a statement last week regarding the complaints “For example, I talk to my co-workers in the break room about our union. My supervisor found out and told me I was “soliciting,” and that if it happened again, I would be disciplined.”


Volkswagen spokesperson Michael Lowder denied the unfair labor charges, adding the complaints “are flatly false.”


“We support our employees’ right to collectively decide the question of union representation and have never and will never retaliate against anyone in any way for expressing their viewpoints,” Lowder said in a statement Friday. “What we don’t support is misinformation about our company and our workplace in Chattanooga, and we are confident the complaints will ultimately be dismissed. Our employees have a strong voice in the plant, and we are proud of our working environment that provides some of the best paying jobs in the area.”


The UAW claims a majority of the union-eligible hourly employees at the Chattanooga plant have signed union authorization forms online.


“I look forward to negotiating improvements to our working conditions,” Atkins said.


The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga employs about 5,500 people, with about 4,100 reportedly eligible for the union, according to Volkswagen.

The United Auto Workers is committing $40 million through 2026 in new organizing funds to support nonunion autoworkers and battery workers who are organizing across the country, and particularly in the South. The UAW International Executive Board voted Tuesday to commit the funds in response to an explosion in organizing activity among nonunion auto and battery workers, in order to meet the moment and grow the labor movement.


In the next few years, the electric vehicle battery industry is slated to add tens of thousands of jobs across the country, and new standards are being set as the industry comes online, the union said. Those jobs will supplement, and in some cases largely replace, existing powertrain jobs in the auto industry. Through a massive new organizing effort, workers will fight to maintain and raise the standard in the emerging battery industry, according to the union.


Although most VW plants around the world are represented by labor unions and half of the Volkswagen governing council are union members, workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga have twice defeated UAW organizing efforts. In 2014, hourly workers voted 712 to 626 against joining the UAW, and in 2019, workers voted by a 833-776 margin against UAW representation.


But Fain has mounted a more aggressive effort to organizing Volkswagen and other nonunion U.S. auto plants, including Mercedes in Vance, Alabama; Nissan in Smyrna, Tennessee; Toyota in Georgetown, Kentucky; and the Tesla plant in Austin, Texas.

The UAW said more than 10,000 autoworkers have already signed their union cards to join the UAW at 14 nonunion automakers from California to South Carolina.


In a previous visit to the Chattanooga VW plant in December, Fain said when the UAW will ask for another vote by employees to align with the UAW was up to workers and how fast they sign more cards.


“At 70%, we’ll start pushing for a vote,” he said at the time.


According to the National Labor Relations Board, an employer such as Volkswagen can voluntarily recognize a union without an election, typically based on a majority of signed authorization cards.