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Employees at the Volkswagen factory in Tennessee are seeking a vote on union representation by the United Auto Workers (UAW)

The Volkswagen factory located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is poised to become a crucial test ground for the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) campaign to unionize nonunion automobile plants nationwide.

Workers at the expansive 3.8 million square foot (353,353 square meter) facility initiated the process on Monday by filing paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to request an election on union representation, as announced by the UAW.

This move marks the first step in the union’s broader campaign, launched last fall following successful contract negotiations with Detroit automakers. The UAW aims to target over a dozen nonunion auto plants, including those operated by Tesla, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Honda, and others, covering nearly 150,000 workers predominantly in the South, where the union has historically faced challenges in recruitment.

Although the UAW has not disclosed specific figures, it stated that a substantial majority of approximately 4,000 production workers at the VW plant have expressed support for union representation, meeting the criteria to request an election under NLRB regulations.

The timing for the election remains uncertain, but the NLRB has scheduled a pre-election hearing for March 26 in Atlanta, as confirmed by the board.

Volkswagen acknowledged the receipt of the petition, affirming its commitment to respecting workers’ rights to a democratic process and determining their representation. In a statement, Volkswagen expressed its support for an NLRB-conducted vote to ensure every team member can participate in this significant decision.

Workers at the Chattanooga plant, responsible for manufacturing Atlas SUVs and the ID.4 electric vehicle, have voiced concerns regarding alleged mistreatment by Volkswagen management, including mandatory overtime on Saturdays and inadequate compensation. They anticipate that union representation will enable them to negotiate for improved working conditions and fairer wages.

The UAW’s previous attempts to unionize the VW plant narrowly fell short in elections held in 2014 and 2019. Despite these setbacks, the union remains undeterred in its efforts to organize workers at the Chattanooga facility.

Additionally, the UAW reported a majority of workers at a Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama, near Tuscaloosa, had also signed union cards, signaling growing momentum in the union’s organizing efforts in the region.

The UAW’s push for unionization gained momentum following successful strikes against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis last year, resulting in significant wage increases and improved benefits for unionized workers. Nonunion factories responded by announcing pay raises, including an 11% increase by VW in November. However, the UAW argues that VW’s pay scale still lags behind that of Detroit automakers.

The UAW’s contracts with Detroit automakers include substantial pay raises, with top assembly plant workers expected to receive hourly wages of $42 by the contracts’ expiration in April 2028, along with annual profit sharing and cost-of-living adjustments.

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