Finance

Ahead of union vote at Chattanooga plant, 6 southern governors threaten auto workers’ jobs

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The day before a vote on union representation at Volkswagen’s Tennessee factory, Gov. Bill Lee and five other southern governors are warning workers off voting for a union, saying doing so will put their jobs in jeopardy.

About 4,300 workers at VW’s plant in Chattanooga will start voting Wednesday on representation by the United Auto Workers union. Vote totals are expected to be tabulated Friday night by the National Labor Relations Board.

The union election is the first test of the UAW’s efforts to organize nonunion auto factories nationwide following its success winning big raises last fall after going on strike against Detroit automakers Ford, General Motors and Jeep maker Stellantis.

The governors said in a statement Tuesday that they have worked to bring good-paying jobs to their states, and that “unionization would certainly put our states’ jobs in jeopardy.”

“We are seeing it in the fallout of the Detroit Three strike with those automakers rethinking investments and cutting jobs,” the statement said. “Putting businesses in our states in that position is the last thing we want to do.”

Lee said in a statement that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have signed on in opposing the UAW’s campaign. The offices of Ivey, Kemp and Reeves confirmed their involvement, and McMaster posted the statement on his website. A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from Abbott.

The governors said they want to continue to grow manufacturing in their states, but a successful union drive will “stop this growth in its tracks, to the detriment of American workers.” The governors also claimed that foreign autoworkers have shuttered plants after successful union drives.

“In America, we respect our workforce and we do not need to pay a third party to tell us who can pick up a box or flip a switch,” they wrote.

The UAW declined comment.

After a series of strikes against Detroit automakers last year, UAW President Shawn Fain said it would simultaneously target more than a dozen nonunion auto plants including those run by Tesla, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Honda, and others.

The drive covers nearly 150,000 workers at factories largely in the South, where unionization rates are low and the UAW has had little success in recruiting new members.

Earlier this month a majority of workers at a Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, filed papers with the NLRB to vote on UAW representation.

The UAW pacts with Detroit automakers include 25% pay raises by the time the contracts end in April of 2028. With cost-of-living increases, workers will see about 33% in raises for a top assembly wage of $42 per hour, or more than $87,000 per year, plus thousands in annual profit sharing.

VW said Tuesday that its workers can make over $60,000 per year not including an 8% attendance bonus. The company says it pays above the median household income in the area.

Volkswagen has said it respects the workers’ right to a democratic process and to determine who should represent their interests. “We will fully support an NLRB vote so every team member has a chance to vote in privacy in this important decision,” the company said.

Some workers at the VW plant, who make Atlas SUVs and ID.4 electric vehicles, said they want more of a say in schedules, benefits, pay and more.

The union has come close to representing workers at the VW plant in two previous elections. In 2014 and 2019, workers narrowly rejected a factorywide union under the UAW.

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