More than 1,000 workers sign up to unionize at top US Volkswagen plant

<span>Photograph: Erin O Smith/AP</span>
Photograph: Erin O Smith/AP

More than 1,000 workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant in Tennessee – the automaker’s flagship US manufacturing site – have signaled they want to unionize, a significant early win in the United Auto Workers’ latest attempt to expand its membership.

The UAW announced on Thursday that over 30% of the plant’s workforce had signed on in the first week. Once a majority signs union authorization cards, the UAW can file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

The move comes as the UAW aims to unionize nearly 150,000 workers at 13 auto plants in the wake of record contract gains at Ford, Stellantis and General Motors.

Related: UAW launches push to organize at Tesla and other non-union car makers

Previous unionization efforts by the UAW at the Chattanooga have failed.

In 2019, the UAW lost its second union election at the plant in a vote of 776 votes in favor of unionizing to 833 who voted against it. Ahead of the vote, elected Republican officials strongly opposed the unionization effort. Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, visited to discourage workers from supporting the union.

In 2014, the union also lost an election, with 53% of workers voting against unionizing. Volkswagen had claimed to remain neutral during both elections, but outside anti-union groups and political leaders engaged in ad spending and campaigns to dissuade workers from voting in the union, and low-level supervisors reportedly participated in those efforts.

“People are standing up like never before,” said Steve Cochran, a skilled team member and a leader of the workers building the union at Volkswagen. “There are a lot of young workers in the plant now, and this generation wants respect. They’re not OK with mistreatment by management. They see what’s happening at Starbucks and Amazon. They know that standing up to join the union is how you win fair treatment, fair pay and a better life.”

The UAW highlighted Volkswagen’s $184bn profits over the past decade. Volkswagen vehicle prices have increased 37% over the last three years, but worker wages have lagged.

“I like working at VW, I’m proud to make these vehicles, but I’m not proud of the way we’re treated,” added Billy Quigg, a production team member in assembly at Volkswagen. “The forced overtime on Saturdays, the lack of time off … it keeps us away from our families. That’s why we’re building the union. When people have a good job and time to spend with our families, we’ll help the whole community thrive.”