UAW Targeting New Volkswagen Plant in Tennessee

By Jason Davis | July 05, 2011
The United Auto Workers is as strong as ever; in 2010, the union increased active membership to 376,612, a six-percent increase over 2009—a feat it accomplished largely without membership from autoworkers in the South. Foreign-based automakers like Toyota, Hyundai, and Nissan sometimes look for the image boost of having American-made vehicles that are built in the South, where UAW representation isn't widespread. For this reason, UAW has kept these automakers within their “friendly sights.” Add Volkswagen to that list with its new billion-dollar Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, where 1900 workers will assemble new cars like the Passat (pictured) for the U.S. market where VW hopes to triple its sales. Paragraphimage Some VW workers from the new plant have reached out to the UAW, said Gary Casteel, UAW Southern Region Director, to the Associated Press. The German-based automaker has traditionally been "more willing to talk to unions about representation," but Casteel said no official organizing efforts have begun. "One of Volkswagen's core values is the basic right of employees to have a voice in the company," said Chattanooga VW spokesman Guenther Scherelis in the automaker's statement Friday. "We value the diversity of experience of our employees and welcome applicants from all backgrounds. We do not consider or track past union affiliation at all in our selection process." Earlier this year, the UAW contacted Hyundai assembly workers at their homes in Mobile, Alabama, but found that interest was weak. Automotive.com has previously noted that Honda and Toyota workers just aren't interested. And since 1973, Nissan workers in the South have continually voted down union membership. But some observers, including Casteel, speculate that worker intimidation and fear have halted organizing efforts. "The perfect scenario is to have a company agree to a fair election," Casteel said. "Let the workers decide on an agreement conducive to the company, where the workers have representation and the company continues to function. It doesn't have to be a fight. It can be the workers engaged in the success of the company. That is the relationship we are working for." But not everyone agrees that auto workers need union representation. Mike Randle, editor and publisher of Southern Business and Development, a publication based in Birmingham, Ala., asked, "What's the point? Organizing is a '50s, '60s and '70s model. It's outdated... We've got folks who do not have a college degree and making $50,000 to $75,000 a year working in an auto plant," he said. "What do you need a union for?" Volkswagen maintains that "any decision on representation belongs to our employees alone.” What do you think? Any UAW or non-UAW workers out there? Are the foreign-based automakers paying well? Do these foreign companies with American labor need the UAW? Source: The Detroit News
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