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The United Auto Workers (UAW) achieved a significant milestone when Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga, Tennessee, overwhelmingly voted to join the union. This victory marks the first successful organizing drive of an automaker outside Detroit’s Big Three. With 73% of the vote in favor of union organizing, a total of 2,628 workers out of more than 4,300 eligible VW workers supported the UAW. The high voter turnout, with roughly 84% of eligible workers participating in the election, underscores the significance of this achievement.

The UAW’s success in Chattanooga opens up new possibilities for the labor organization. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) still needs to certify the results, but assuming no unexpected challenges arise, Volkswagen will be obligated to bargain in good faith with the union. This victory also sets the stage for the UAW to expand its organizing efforts across the automotive industry. Following recent contract wins with major manufacturers like General Motors, Ford Motor, and Chrysler parent Stellantis, UAW leaders see this as a launching point for organizing campaigns at multiple automakers in the U.S.

Despite the UAW’s triumph, it did face opposition from several Republican governors in Southern states, including Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. These governors issued a joint statement expressing concerns about the potential impact of unionization on jobs in the automotive manufacturing industry. However, the UAW’s persistence and dedication to advocating for workers’ rights prevailed in the face of these challenges.

With the Volkswagen plant now successfully organized, the UAW will shift its focus towards negotiating with the company. Additionally, the union is anticipating an organizing vote among Mercedes-Benz workers at an SUV plant in Vance, Alabama. The upcoming vote, scheduled to take place from May 13 to May 17, will give over 5,200 workers the opportunity to join the UAW. UAW President Shawn Fain has emphasized the importance of believing in the possibility of positive change and better working conditions, a sentiment that resonates with workers across different automotive plants.

Fain’s vision for the UAW extends beyond the traditional Big Three automakers, aiming to include companies referred to as the “Big Five or Big Six” by the time the current contracts with Detroit automakers expire in 2028. This ambitious goal underscores the union’s commitment to advocating for workers’ rights and improving conditions across a broader spectrum of the automotive industry.

The successful unionization of Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga represents a significant achievement for the UAW and paves the way for further organizing efforts in the automotive sector. By overcoming challenges and gaining widespread support from workers, the UAW has demonstrated its resilience and determination to create positive change for employees in the industry.

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